Northumberland Art Lovers: James Pickersgill

“Continuing to write, continuing the group, continuing to meet and continuing to socialize has been a boon to good mental health for me. Others have said the same.”–James Pickersgill

Today poet James Pickersgill tells NFOTA about his inspirations for writing poems, the long-standing Cobourg Poetry Workshop, and the popular Third Thursday Reading Series.

James Pickersgill, Photo © Ted Amsden Photography

In this series we feature interviews and discussions with Individual Artists, Leaders of Arts Groups and Organizations, Civic Leaders, and Arts Lovers in our county.

James, when did you start writing poetry and how has the Cobourg Poetry Workshop influenced your process as a poet?

My father and two of my older brothers all dabbled in composing poetry. When I was 14 years old, a teacher walked into the first day of my Grade 9 English class and told us, “Before the end of this school year, each of you will write 4 poems.” That seemed onerous. Nonetheless, I did write the poems he assigned. In fact, I wrote many more, composing more than 300 during the next 3 years and having some pieces published. At one point, poems of mine were appearing in different literary publications at the rate of one every three weeks.

If left only to my individual devices, in certain periods of time, I might not compose poetry as month after month goes by. As a member of the Cobourg Poetry Workshop (CPW), I have experienced the impetus to write that comes from the group involvement. Also, hearing other people’s work has two effects:

1. the mostly-unspoken natural human competitive spirit means you want to do as well as them and better than you have been doing; and,

2. your creative juices are stimulated by experiencing the other members’ artistic expression.

Congratulations on the Cobourg Poetry Workshop receiving a Distinguished Civic Award for the Arts in 2019. Could you tell us how and when the group got started and what was its purpose?

Eric Winter, the first Poet Laureate of our Town initiated the CPW – drawing in some other local poets to help him do so. That was in 2000. The group has operated continuously ever since. Quite a feat, that now-21-year history.

The core purpose of the group has always been to encourage people to write poetry.

CPW receives a 2019 Cobourg Civic Award, Photo © Ted Amsden Photography

The Third Thursday Reading Series has been one of the highlights of the Cobourg literary scene. When and how did it originate?

In 2002, two years into the history of our Cobourg Poetry Workshop, Eric called for the members to do more than just share their original writing with one another on a single evening each month. He wanted every CPW member to present poetry to the public.

This was also intended as the means for CPW members to experience giving Readings to an audience that was not solely fellow poets and to develop that skill.

How has the CPW managed to meet/stay in touch during the pandemic?

Yes. That has been done and it has been great.

The Third Thursday Reading Series has been on hiatus throughout the fight against COVID-19; we expect it to re-start in early 2022, if not sooner.

Our regular monthly members’ meetings have continued, either outside or via Zoom. Continuing to write, continuing the group, continuing to meet and continuing to socialize has been a boon to good mental health for me. Others have said the same.

The Cobourg Poetry Workshop read poems by Eric Winter to Eric Winter on Tuesday March 26 2019,
Photo © Ted Amsden Photography

Where do you find inspiration for your poems?

Often, poems compose themselves in my head while I take walks. The math of my inspiration is that approximately 80% of the pieces I compose are love poems. During the past 41 years all the love poems I have written have found origin related to my wife, Jane.

What other art forms are you involved with, interested in, inspired by?

I glory daily in my current status as retired from paid employment. I am learning photography but I am still very much a beginner.

I have also combined visual art with poetry in the form called “vispo.” I have mounted 2 solo public exhibits of my vispo and have participated in a number of joint displays, too.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. kimaubrey says:

    Thanks, James, for sharing some of your own history as a poet, along with the history of Cobourg Poetry Workshop!

  2. Elizabeth Hammond says:

    Very interesting. I had no idea of the rich history of poets and poetry in Cobourg.

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