Nikki Bennett has been looking back over her three years as Uni-verse Convenor

Nikki Bennett, founder of BRLSI’s Uni-verse International Poetry group, has handed over the reins to new Convenor Duncan McGibbon, but is still heavily involved in poetry in Bath and the surrounding area, and will be hosting an evening of Bath poets at BRLSI on Feb 25th as part of Bath Literature Festival. Here she looks back at her Uni-verse years, and to the future:
Uni-verse began in March 2007, and I announced it – and myself – with this entry in BRLSI News, Jan 2007:
“I am the Bath Stanza Rep for The Poetry Society and wanted to start up a group with a different slant. Also, there are already so many excellent poetry groups in Bath, but not many at lunchtimes, which would give a chance to people with children at school, students, people who work in Bath but live elsewhere etc. to come along. I had the idea of an international flavour because, again, I wanted to open the group up to a wide range of people of all nationalities. I have already had a good response from members of the BRLSI, including the Linguakids parents and other poetry groups, and expect to get a fair amount of interest from overseas students and foreign nationality residents in Bath.”
I went on to host uni-verse monthly until December 2010, and during that time the subjects ranged from individual poets including Tagore, Khayyam, Goethe, Rumi and Trakl to poetry from a nation (China, France) a language (Russian, Latin, Occitan), a topic or form (rhyme and meter, haiku) and indeed to poets’ own travels in the world (Trans-Siberian Travels, London, England –  ‘the world’).

Time shift – Nikki hosting a rare Uni-verse evening event in 2008.
The calibre of speakers and their topics brought an added approach to poetry in BRLSI that sat well alongside the existing group, and I was pleased to also be part of bringing more poetry there by advocating the inclusion of Bath Poetry Café. I was also proud to be host for at least three book launches during those three and a half years.
I was very enthusiastic about the whole day event I organised for International Women’s Day Centenary (March 2008) and highly delighted to have my 60th birthday party celebrated twice – at the uni-verse meeting January 2009, when many members had written special poems for me, and the following Saturday when family and friends came together from UK and abroad for a feast of delicious food and 20 poetical, and musical offerings.
Looking back on the Uni-verse 2007-10, I am pleased with what we achieved. There is still plenty of scope for links with other organisations, however, and I know Duncan McGibbon is keen to develop those links in Bath, its universities, the UK and abroad. Good luck, Duncan. My final joyous achievement was to secure, as Poetry Society Representative, an event in the Bath Literature Festival to showcase 13 Bath-based accomplished, established or published poets. This event will be held on the evening of 25th February 2011, sponsored by and held at BRLSI. See you there!
Nikki Bennett
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Comments received on my retirement as Uni-verse convenor – thank you to everyone for their good wishes:
Christine Tipper: I’m so sad to hear that you’re finishing your leadership of uni-verse. I know I haven’t come that often – diary, classes etc but I’ve really appreciated your kindness and approach.
Euan Tait: I meant to reply, and to thank you for the wonderful work you’ve done with uni-verse.  I have been delighted to be a part of things.
David Johnson: Well done for al your good work with uni-verse in the past years. I
thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities that you afforded me to perform.
Michael Withey: Sorry to see you are are ‘handing over’ the hosting. I shall miss your welcome and gracious style. But hope to see you there. Many thanks for what you have brought us and the lovely way in which you have done it.
Paul Stephens: I’m sorry to see you going as Uni-verse convenor – I remember when I was doing the newsletter, how your programme always seemed so varied and full of new ideas.
Martin Sturge: Your sessions on Latin and Arabic verse, also Japanese and the Haiku tradition were memorable, and your invitation to me to present some work in French and Occitan brought me some labour and much reward.  Debate is still inconclusive on the origins of man’s communicative talents, but Music, Song and Verse are clearly intertwined in minstrelsy and rhyme, and lend their presence in much of the best prose.  Poetry reminds us, may one say, that literacy is much the younger sister of speech, and your contribution to the affairs of the Institution, with those of Janet and Sue, have brought many happy occasions to relish this deep and special part of man’s endeavours in the aural world.
Linda Saunders: I’ve meant to write sooner than now to say how sorry I am about your decision to stop organising Universe. I have greatly admired your enterprise and energy and all you’ve done for poetry in Bath, and thoroughly enjoyed some of the Universe sessions I’ve been able to attend. The very idea of Universe was an inspired one, and the events it generated have been inspiring too. Thank you from me!

Marie-Louise Luxemburg: On behalf of the all the Convenors I would like to thank you for the time and effort you have given the BRLSI. You have contributed greatly to putting ‘Poetry ‘ on the BRLSI map, and you have certainly found some excellent Poetry speakers in the three and a half years you have been a convenor – and your programme for 2011 looks very interesting.
Caroline Heaton: Thank you for your lovely end-of-year seasonal message – it’s been a pleasure to be involved with Uni-verse and its lively cultured audience. Also tremendously enjoyable to have been an audience member introduced to a fascinating variety of cultures through  their poetry. Congratulations once again for the huge, but unobtrusive planning and imagination that goes into all the Uni-verse events behind scenes.

Rose Flint: I think all the Bath people don’t know how lucky they are to have had such an energetic, warm and engaging person to open up new fields of discourse and poetry for them. Everyone will miss you – a lot. Thank you for everything.
Rosalie Challis: I did want to tell you, above all, how sorry I was that you are not continuing with your role as organizer and presenter of the uni-verse talks. I am sure I am just one of many of those who have attended uni-verse sessions who has greatly appreciated the clearly considerable amount of work involved in sourcing good speakers. Equally important, for me, is your friendly and easy way of presenting the more esoteric of uni-verse’s subjects, as well as the more familiar ones. You have certainly found speakers to take us on some fascinating journeys, not least Susan Richardson and her indomitable and still unforgettable female Viking…  I was really sorry not to be able to come to the December uni-verse meeting and join in all the thanks that I am sure will have come your way then.

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