Words and Voices 1 3

Spoken Worlds

Old Cottage Tavern, Burton Upon Trent

The last in this year's series of Spoken Worlds went out on a high tonight with a guest poet, a luxury not normally indulged in, Ash Dickinson playing to a full house.

It was a fitting climax to a year of hard work by organiser Gary Carr who has successfully moved venues during the year, losing few, and adding several to his core audience.

These are the unsung heroes of the regional poetry circuit, blagging rooms, providing PA systems, preparing, producing and distributing promotional material, and constantly having to nurture attendances, cosseting their existing audience, while winning new ones – all on pretty much no money.

Gary opened proceedings by remembering the recently deceased poet Peter Reading who died on 17th November.  Reading was an English poet and the author of 26 collections of poetry, known for his choice of ugly subject matter, and use of classical metre.

The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry describes his verse as "strongly anti-romantic, disenchanted and usually satirical". ] Interviewed by Robert Potts, reading described his own work as a combination of "painstaking care" and "misanthropy". It was an inspired gesture by Gary to read three Reading compositions in tribute.


Ash Dickinson himself was excellent. Friendly, unassuming, playing in low-key surroundings for him,  he gave  100% in a charismatic, humorous and self –effacing performance. He started by telling us that he was going to combine stand-up, theatre and rap mash-up as the thinking man's Axel Rose, and he was true to his word. The best performance poets transcend genres  and are simply good in their own right, that is  Dickinson's forte.

Two poems, including Chiller Queen amused about the domestic fridge, and he railed about Facebook – despite having no less than three Facebook pages himself! The smell of love was explored with the memorable idea that “beauty is in the nose of the beholder, whilst Temping and abandoned mountain bikes were topics for fine forays into social commentary on the absurdities of occasional work and youth unemployment respectively.

Two poems stood head and shoulders above the rest for me. The first was a witty, but coruscating and affectionate tirade against he excesses of modern day football, a subject incredibly difficult t handle well, but which Ash made look easy.

The second was the very clever Your Stand In, a very sharp take on a clever idea – what it would be like to have our own stand-in / body double. Whilst much of his material was funny and entertaining, this had a dangerous edge to it elevating it as his most satisfying  piece of the evening.

As always, a varied and eclectic band of open micers strutted their stuff. In random observation, Ian Ward delivered an accomplished tetractys The Gift  and debutante Tom Wyre impressed with Phantasmagorical ( I bet he has some Curved Air albums at home) containing some strong rhyming patterns, but needing just a little editing.

Tony Keeton shocked, and delighted, by reading from some newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls (found at a car boot sale), and Rob Stevens evoked mass nostalgia by remembering Oliver Postgate, creator of numerous childrens stories including Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, Pogles Wood and Noggin the Nog.  

The Old Cottage Tavern plays host to a comedy verse night on Fri 9th Dec, Spoken Worlds reconvenes on Fri 27/1, Buxton Word Wizzards meets at the Grove Hotel Buxton on 27/12, all at 7. 30pm.

Gary Longden


Poetry Bites

Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

Another full house turned out to see a contrasting headlining duo tonight. Joseph Horgan hails from Cork now, but grew up in Bordesley, whilst Bobby Parker is a veteran of the mean streets of Kidderminster.  

A failing voice meant that regular hostess Jacqui Rowe called upon the services of David Calcutt to effect most of the introductions. David's deputising efficiency and brevity  was invaluable as he marshalled a long list of floor readers.

Joseph Horgan closed the first half of the evening reading extensively from his current collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea.  Typically his poems are short, the subject matter often exploring the dislocation of an ex pat Brummie now domiciled in Ireland. Curiously few poems were about Cork, instead favouring a broader look at displacement, and what it means.

The contrast between his urban roots, and his rural present, was another source of dislocation, and found expression in his  city poems,  Sound Matter, and Asbestos Dreams with its beautiful image of the “lullaby of the furnace”. Joe skilfully acts as an observer on both a Birmingham shaped by Imperial migration, and an Ireland shaped by economic migration. His observation that the more that societies reach out, the more they contract in their perception of what their core identity is, was a point very shrewdly observed. That cerebral dimension touched all of his writing.

Bobby Parker closed the evening promoting his new collection Digging for Toys. Bobby is fond of quoting Richard Brautigan: “Finding is losing something else. I think about, perhaps even mourn, what I lost to find this, ” and that sense of personal discovery is very evident in his writing as he moves from a single life, through marriage to parenthood.


His strength is his insistence on seeing everything around him as being interesting, apart from himself, “Why can't I be different and unusual like everyone else”. Isobel 6am was a touching tribute to his newborn daughter, Nightlife  a witty surreal study in furniture and appliances moving of their own accord at night time. Bobby revealed that his wife complained he slept too much, his response? “ I (do) sleep too much, but she does not know what it is like to collect dreams. ”

The floor readers were numerous. A wholly capricious flavour is as follows; Ruth Stacey put the erotic back into modern day fairy tales with her tale of a voracious bear, Janet Smith took us tantalisingly to The Edge, Chris Wayne made a strong, if frenetic debut, Adele Faulkner brought teenage motherhood viscerally alive, and Mal Dewhirst took us mischievously to Cork! My favourite line of the night however came from Mary Shear's poem, Kink, " We've a safe word- and it isn't no. "

A Poetry Bites special appears on 6th December in aid of Amnesty International. Matt Merritt headlines the next regular event on 24/1, remaining 2012 dates are 27/3, 22/5, 24/7, 25/9 and 27/11. Matt  Merritt is a wildlife journalist and historian, both of which colour his poetry, his current collection, available through Nine Arches press is the snappily titled, Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica. 22-11-11

Gary Longden


Worcestershire Poet and Blogger Ruth Stacey was also at the event 

 A view from the back of the stanza. . .

 I have wanted to go to Poetry Bites for a long time but it clashes with my daughter's gymnastics class. During the week Bobby Parker put out a call for a lift on facebook to get there and it seemed like the perfect chance to go. Gymnastics not quite as important as enabling a poet to read his poetry out loud to an audience!

Then I thought if I am driving I may as well fill my car up with a collection of excellent poets. So I messaged Chris Guidon and his beautiful, talented fiance Emma (she paints amazing pictures) and invited them to come.
Next I asked the poet Sarah James if she wanted the last space and she said yes. . . a whole car load of poets (and one artist and muse) heading for Poetry Bites. What could go wrong?
I picked up Sarah from Droitwich and headed for Kiddy, this went fairly well as I know my way around The Shire, problems began after I picked up Bobby, Chris and Emma.
Does anyone know the way?
Nobody knows?

I had a map.
It was useless.
Actually I was useless at reading the map.

Under pressure to deliver one of the headline acts my brain melted into custard and I sat gaping like a goldfish somewhere in Hagley whilst the people in the back waited for me to find my way. Luckily sat next to me was a calm voice of reason who also had the foresight to bring her Sat Nav thingy.

Anyway we got there, on time as well. So what was the poetry like? Well this is just an impression of the night, not a review of every single poet, just the ones that really stood out to me, and rely on my slightly faulty memory.

Jacqui Rowe and David Calcutt were brilliant hosts and it was a packed audience. Roger Deveaux, read a number of observational poems about travelling on buses, I thought he captured some insights into human nature very well and speaking to him before hand it seemed that poetry meant a great deal to him.

Chris Wayne performed a powerful poem about the tricks and lies of the media which was excellent, Pat Coyle read two poems about a willow and a rowan tree which I enjoyed as I love tree imagery and I liked the pagan symbols about the trees that were layered into her poems. David Calcutt read two beautiful poems, his poetry is so carefully constructed that it makes strong, vivid pictures in my head as he reads them.

Chris Guidon read three excellent poems, I really like the way he writes and I like the way he reads them to the audience, quite mesmerising. One of the poems opened with the lines,

'We came across an abandoned car
still clicking in the snow drift,
poised there like a nervous dog left -
tied to the railings outside some empty shop. '

It was a stunning poem. The last poem was about time spent on holiday with his girlfriend where they were watching a helicopter lift water to release onto an olive grove. The poem was skilfully tense and expectant, filled with sensual, erotic metaphors.
Gary Longden read a very interesting set of three poems about Aston Hall and he showed off his excellent performance skills but investing each piece with different pace and emotion. The inspired idea of likening the Jacobean mansion to an alien spacecraft set down in urban sprawl was brilliant and funny.

The Long Gallery poem was clever too, very well observed and a good connection (the image of the walk along the gallery ) to the final poem which was softer, introspective and had a stong central image, things appearing different under the surface, of the layers of grime hiding the oak walls and the last line was so strong.
Sarah James read two poems which contrasted very well. The first was very clever, called 'The je ne sais quoi of it' she was playing with the ideas of linguistics and memory. It felt emotional but not sentimental and had a film like quality. She followed that with a witty little poem imagining the dreams and desires of a fridge. I like the way poets take you places you have never imagined.
Laurence Inman's poem about running was really excellent. I enjoyed it very much, It had so much going on it and he performed it very well.

Adele faulkner's poem about her daughter was perhaps my favourite of the night. I identified so strongly with her feelings about motherhood, her relationship with her daughter and coping with people's judgement about having a baby at the apprently incorrect time. Although I wasn't as young as Adele was when she had her daughter (and I loved how her daughter was so proud of her poetic, hippy mum) I had my own share of people thinking I was mad to have a baby as a single mum. Adele cleverly encapsulated many of my own feelings and her poem made me laugh and I nearly cried too. A wonderful performance and talent.
Antony R Owen is a poet I have seen twice before now and each time I hear him read it is a very intense and assured performance, he commands the audience by the power of his voice and his poetry. His poems often make me feel uneasy but at the same time they absorb me. His poem about his father was one my highlights of the night.
Janet Smith came on late in the second half and she cast a spell over the whole audience with her poised and elegant performance. Softly spoken but she holds the audience with her spare, beautifully constructed poems. She read two poems with an Alaskan theme including her stunning poem 'Pacific' which is in three parts. The way Janet says the numbers before each section is like a pause for the audience to take a breath before the next vivid description. To me, her poems feel like paintings made with words.

Mal Dewhirst read an interesting poem about his time in Ireland as part of the Cork/Coventry poet exchange which complimented the poems Joseph Horgan would follow with later. Mal reads very well and his poems are crafted so the listener can go on the journey too, with the poet as he observed his surroundings in Ireland.
Joseph Horgan, was originally born in Birmingham, to Irish parents but has lived in Ireland since the 1980's. He obviously has a close connection to the city and it made his performance feel very special and quite emotional as the audience recognised the descriptions of Birmingham in his poetry.

He had everyone in the audience hanging off every word. His poems were short and I liked that, it takes skill to be succinct and convey so much. He read a poem about watching his sisters washing their hair in the sink, chatting and gossiping, full of life and the hair seemed to me to symbolise innocence, childhood happiness and it ended with the sisters moving out and cutting their hair short. It was one of the best poems I have heard this year, I loved it. It was a pleasure to hear him read.
Bobby Parker was on fire last night, he read last and was extremely relaxed and confident. Reading from his collection 'Digging for Toys' he picked out different poems on various subjects but all were well received by the audience. He made them laugh, gasp, bellow and cheer. He explored difficult themes but never wallowed in misery, he has a lightness of touch that allows the audience to share his sense of humour.

His poem about his feelings of fear before his wedding called 'HG Well's' was a typical example of his skill. Surreal, humorous on one level, it has layers below that explored his relationship with his girlfriend, family and the conventions of marriage. It was excellent. I also thought his poem about his love for his daughter was extremely clever. To write about his baby smelling of piss may seem horrible but in the skilful hands of the poet Bobby Parker it is an expression of deep and pure love that doesn't need sentiment or pretty similes. He writes poetry that has the ring of truth about it and that is very talented indeed.

Ruth Stacey

 http://www. mermaidsdrown. blogspot. com/


Black Country Dialectics

 Bilston Library

 “It wus wuna them dank November arternoons that's dusk frum early on an maerges slowly into noight well afore the official toime gid fer sunset. A crowd was in an upstairs room of Bilston library fer a loff an loff they did. Raed on …”

It was one of those dank November afternoons that seems to be dusk from early on and merges slowly into dark well before the official time given for sunset. Quite a crowd had gathered in an upstairs room of Bilston library to be entertained for an hour and entertained they were.

In the presence of some of Bilston's most proficient Black Country speakers, Dave Reeves was promoting his book Black Country Dialectics (Offa's Press) by reading and performing several pieces from the book and the CD that accompanies it.

With Chris Lomas on guitar providing suitable background music where it was needed we heard about Cowboys with Black Country accents drinking mild beer and wanting scratchings, bare knuckle fighters in barrels and the notorious Tipton Slasher. For an hour we were taken back to the days when the area really had separate dialects.

Heather Wastie, who seems to have an endless supply of characters, gave us the women's voices in her usual quietly impeccable style. This woman must surely be heir to the traditions of Joyce Grenfell?

I think I can say that all present had a good afternoon at this little ‘indulgence'. It wus bostin. 09-11-11

Eileen Ward-Birch


Parole Parlate

Little Venice, Worcester

PAROLE Parlate continues to be one of the most popular monthly poetry and spoken word events in Worcester.

 Organised by Lisa Ventura, Worcestershire Literary Festival Director and her team, and held at the Italian restaurant, Little Venice, there are now many regular performers and usually a special headline act.

Although classed as “an open mic” event it is unlikely that you will get a spot if you just hopefully turn up on the night. Such is the demand by poets and writers to perform that usually places are filled at least a month in advance! November was the first anniversary of Parole Parlate and it looks set to have many more.  

The evening opened with Nicola Callow, a feisty young woman who immediately silenced the audience with her Murder in the Vicarage, a tale of how the ladies of the WI take their competitions so seriously that the unluckiest member is the competition winner. This was followed by Something in the City which vividly contrasted the good life of a city gent in the West with a mother in an arid land losing her child to malnutrition.

 Bury me with Style  was a whimsical look at funeral arrangements while Hey You, Cock in a Car, demanded a certain amount of audience participation. A rousing start to the night.  

Lyndsay Stanberry-Flynn had set herself an exercise to write a story in 100 words. This resulted in Footsteps, a chilling tale perfectly in keeping with Halloween events earlier in the week. She followed with It's only a Tree, a fairly uncomplicated discussion between husband and wife which emphasised how they had drifted apart during their marriage.


The Sound of Screaming was a rather uncomfortable account of the violence and brutality which can happen in one's own home when the door is opened to a stranger, and Lyndsay's rather thought provoking set was completed with In a Heartbeat – something to make everybody think twice about having a pacemaker fitted.  

Regular John Lawrence, introduced himself with Now, a poem about rediscovery following a death, poignant and quite beautiful as it turned out. He was swiftly back into the John Lawrence who engages and delights with Forest; trees with human names in a forest of his own making and what they may or may not get up to.

How Truth Can Hurt a Fish was an amusing little ditty, Lament of a Zanussi Luminary an education in just how much wisdom and insight your average electrical engineer can convey in a single call-out, and a grand finale of Super Hero left us uplifted. Unfortunately, for Parole Parlate, John intends to concentrate on his next book for the foreseeable future.  

Bobby Parker brought us into the troubled world of those suffering from depression with his opening poem Zoloft. This was followed by We Pray, Honest to Go, No Screaming While the Bus is in Motion and Pig Head. An intense performance.  

Andrew Owens lightened the mood with Last Bout  yes, you've guessed, a story, or should I say a piece of prose, about a boxer fighting his last bout. The whys and what ifs permeated the narrative and kept us guessing until the end as to the outcome. With a couple of boxers appearing at Parole Parlate in their secondary roles as poets from time to time, the poetry would be the wisest option to take having listened to this tale. An interesting close to the first half.


A South African lady I have not seen before, Eugina Herlihy, opened the second half with What is this Wave, her personal take on the recession and all its trials and tribulations and how, in the end, the answer will come from the King of Kings. Not surprisingly, her second poem was a tribute to Nelson Mandela and she ended with Olympics 2012 where she encouraged Great Britain to be again the great nation it was: “we can do this, build high walls of unity”.  

A total newcomer to Parole Parlate and poetry was Chris Kingsley. Unusually for this event, a performer was unable to attend and Chris, with a little help from yours truly, was coerced into performing. A very confident performance got off to a topical and political start with George, a poem seeking the answers as to why Greek people were going to be offered a referendum.

Light and amusing whilst nudging at more serious issues, the audience warmed to this new poet. The Watcher changed the mood totally when a “do-er” becomes a “watcher” on a silent hillside and a “brain that counted money away” is “now in awe of the tranquil scene” before him. Pleasing and well received hopefully, we will see Chris again.

Michelle Crosbie, poised and looking totally at home, opened her set with Mapping Change, a thought provoking piece on a graduate's UCAS statement. Insisting that “I don't believe uni is for me”, the student in question decides that they would be a failure at uni and that they will map out their own life.

Love's Barren Days was a sensitive venture into past love “where the clock doesn't tick”.


Time Passing By proved to be an evocative piece inspired by Laugharne in Wales and, like the description of the water, the metre flowed and gurgled. A “chocolate lake” contrasting beautifully with “blue velvet waters” as “nature's clock ticks time passing by”. Michelle is definitely making her mark.  

Young Bard of Worcestershire runner-up Beth “Knuckles” Edwards was the penultimate act. Her fast paced performance spurred on by the fact that her English teacher was in the audience. Legacy was delivered in her usual assertive style and as she ended on “Art is my saviour.

Words are my weapons” her teacher shouted out “A+”. Scars followed which was Beth's version of the recent rioting. For one so young and not wishing to be patronising, her line “my kids will be martyrs not murderers” seemed a fitting end to this piece. A victim of insomnia, Until We Meet Again was a plea for sleep, something I'm sure with which many of us could identify. The Pleasures of Grammar is an old favourite and I am the Dealer is a carefully observed poem about success, spirit and passion as opposed to drugs.  

Headlining was Scott Tyrell, a pleasant and unassuming young man. Pushed into an open mic slot by a friend a few years ago, Scott was winner of the European Capital of Culture Slam in 2002, Manchester Comedy Balloon Comedian of the Year in 2003 and Belfast Inter-City Slam champion in 2004 and 2005.

With pieces in several anthologies and even more titles and credits to his name, I was looking forward his spot and I was not disappointed. He connected with the audience immediately and explained that he had lost his South Shields accent attending York University then went on to tell the history behind the Angel of the North.

Originally thought to be a complete waste of money “go make your arty farty sculpture elsewhere” it was finally accepted by the people “Aye, go on then, you can stay”. Several trite observations, dubious facts and several laughs were encountered throughout this delightful piece. I was surprised and pleased to have If You Go Down to the Woods Today dedicated to me having seen it on YouTube and requested it, and it went down a storm.

Not quite the fairy stories which the Brothers Grimm intended but I am sure they would have laughed loudly had they been there.  


Mistaken was a moving piece taking us through a chance meeting with someone he once knew. She did not appear to recognise him but he was unsure as to whether it was a genuine non-recollection or the fact that he had never been important enough to recall anyway. A sad piece interpreted in a common sense way with, in my opinion, the lady in question being the loser. Explaining that he often ran for charity and had done the Great North Run, he took us through his mind set for such an event, the people, costumes, scenery and sense of purpose and commitment. I'm wearing my trainers at all times now.  

His final piece, Coitus Interruptus, left us as he had started – laughing, and I can't give better praise than that. The saga of trying to cement a sexual relationship as well as a personal one, with the lady of his dreams when a young child may well have been within earshot, was problematic. The line “alert as squirrels” may indicate that one hundred percent attention was not being given to the specific task. An extremely funny and witty end to a thoroughly enjoyable performance. I hope to see him at Parole Parlate again.  

And so the first anniversary celebrations came to an end. Parole Parlate has brought a new energy to poetry in Worcester and long may it continue. New poets have emerged, existing poets have gained experience and confidence and audiences have been exposed to professional poets from several regions of the UK thanks to the Worcestershire Literary Festival and Apples and Snakes' Bohdan Piasecki, Programme Co-ordinator for the West Midlands. Little Venice is an intimate and friendly venue for these evenings (first Thursday of every month except December 2011) with food and drink available.  

Parole Parlate returns again on January 5th with:

Suz Winspear
David Calcutt
Tony Judge
Shabz Ahmed
Nathan Williams
Edward Unique

and, headlining, The Decadent Poetry Divas (which includes me!) 

Happy Christmas to you all and I look forward to meeting up with you in the New Year. 03-11-11 

Maggie Doyle


Fizz 10

Tithe Barn


This was the last event in the 2011 season for Fizz, and featured the second live performance of the Cork Poets on tour,  with a radio appearance still to come.  

The move from the Refectory to the Tithe Barn was a success with the more intimate and comfortable surroundings accommodating a good turn -out, and was a credit to organisers Mal Dewhirst and Antony R Owen. The presence of several newcomers to Fizz was particularly welcome both in welcoming the guests and in providing some new voices to the second half open mic section.

Following their Coventry appearance, the Cork Poets read fresh material, with Afric McGinchley opening up the evening in very strong style.

She introduced us to the Zimbabwe Tokoloshe. Zimbabwe's Tokoloshe is large, covered in fur with long talons and a bony spine reaching all the way down its back, from the top of its skull, with glowing red eyes and emits a foul stench, speaking  in a rasping voice.

Fear of them is such that many people will not sleep on the floor, and will raise their beds higher by placing bricks underneath the legs. This enables them to see one hiding underneath the bed before they retire for the night. There's a good reason to fear a Tokoloshe - it is claimed they will climb into the bed with the inhabitant and bite off a sleeping man's toes and have their wicked, Tokoloshe way, with the women.


Some people will not even mention the name Tokoloshe for fear of summoning this extremely unwelcome guest. A person can summon one to inflict harm upon another, and if this happens then a Nyanga - witchdoctor - may intervene and chase the evil being away. Only the victim and the culprit dealing with it can see a Tokoloshe, apart from children.

So when the farm workers on Afric's farm downed tools because of the presence of a Tokoloshe, this was bad news both for the collection of the harvest and the well being of the farm workers, time to call in the Nyanga to resolve the situation, and for Afric to write Exorcism about the incident. Raw material does not get much better than that. The poem was fabulous.

What impressed me most about her was the versatility of her writing. The emotion of her poem to her son leaving home captivated the room, complete with plaintive cry to “ grab the tender moments”, Yes a stream of consciousness poem about a young virgin's first sexual encounter was erotic and compelling, while Fish Paste and Star Jumps was the most innovative poem about being stuck in a traffic jam  I have heard for a long time.

Com Scully has mastered the art of  dry wit and humour, always eschewing a belly laugh in favour of a wry smile. The Schism of Antioch  was a great title which he chose to develop independent of the facts, no matter, it was impressive and fun.


He told of when he was nearly undone by a Professor  of near east history of the first millennium, but successfully blagged his way through, no doubt resulting in a frantic search by the academic for this fresh source material, a search that will be forever  doomed! Sceilig Mhichíl, is a steep rocky island, one of a pair, in the  Atlantic  some nine miles  from the coast of County Kerry.

It is home to a monastery founded in the 7th century in which the monks lived in stone 'beehive' huts, clochans, perched above near vertical cliff walls. As such it was rich and evocative ground for Return to Red Abbey to explore. Two poems inspired by his daughters, Isabel and Middle Age,  revealed Colm's soft side, but the most striking poem for me was his last, God's Footballer,  which marvelously conjured memories of childhood sporting endeavour.

Jennifer Mathews works in concise, understated forms. Some poets wring the maximum out of their inspiration, Jennifer does just enough, making each word work hard, and she knows a rich image when she spots one. After two weather poems she read Firsts, which explores unsuitable youthful infatuation inspired by spotting an initially  striking young man  sitting on some steps, who then revealed himself as a ravaged drug addict. So although, ” Thin and tall as a long wicked flame, he is white hot—white everything, ” he  then morphs when, “ he opens his mouth— a missing tooth, others rotting at their bases. I feel them curl  in their little deaths. ” Anyone who has lived in more than one country tends to be sharp in spotting local foibles and idiosyncrasies. Jennifer did just that in A Taste of More a playful and affectionate twist on the English phrase “moreish”.

The open- mic half gave the Cork Poets an opportunity to both relax and appreciate the work of others, and numerous poets were on top form. I shall pick out just two poems which edged above a very strong field, Antony R Owen's  Mother Russia, and Gary Carr's Fish. And so, for a night, the spirit of  O Bheal in Winthrop St, Cork, lived in Polesworth.

We live in a time of international financial uncertainty, self interest and mistrust. Over a pre-poetry pint I mused with our visitors about the connection which most poets instinctively recognise when in poetic company. Perhaps it is the poetic quest to ask questions, whilst respecting and welcoming differences which is part of that bond? The value of the Cork/Coventry Poets exchange unquestionably  strengthens that desire to celebrate  what we share and demands to be nurtured and grown. 3-11-11

Gary Longden


The Cork Poets

Night Blue Fruit, Coventry

A strengthening artistic bond between Coventry and Cork was reinforced tonight with the latest exchange visit between the two cities, which this time brought Colm Scully, Jennifer Mathews and Afric McGlinchey across the water.

 An unexpected bonus of the evening was the American and African heritage which Jennifer and Afric respectively, brought with their writing, in addition to the Cork/ Irish nexus. All three poets had impressive literary credentials, but as Afric later opined, it is better to let the poetry itself do the talking – which is exactly which they did, in some style.

Colm Scully playfully boasted that he had the only authentic Cork accent, but his poetry was far from parochial. The satire Ode to Capitalism  in an era of global financial crisis was safe opening territory, before he switched from macro-economics to the personal imagined life story of a 103 year old lady who had recently died- and then moved to an unlikely fascination with hats. Colm is a chemical engineer by profession, and that discipline was evident in his meticulous and fond description of the manufacture of millinery. Origins of Superlatives was witty, my favourite from his reading was The Minarets at Little Island a fine evocative industrial landscape piece.

Jennifer Mathews is a recently naturalised Irish citizen of Missouri, USA, descent. A reverse of the emigration trends of the past two centuries. After opening with Scavenger Hunt, a reprise of the theme of the collapse of global capitalism, she then ventured into the less well known excesses of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas with Protesting the Tornado a piece whose power transcended the physical phenomena it described, as did Severance. Panda took us on an unexpected, and delightful trip to China before she explored, tongue firmly in cheek, on how a woman is supposed to keep her man. Jennifer's easy manner was equally at home with the more profound opening section as it was with the lighter closing pieces.


The last of the Cork trio to perform was Afric McGlinchey who defied the demands of a long day to produce a sparkling set. Red Letter Day  was a poignant paean to the suicide of three immigrants in Glasgow, executed by jumping from the top of a tower block, Red Shoes a wonderful piece of whimsy about a girl's best friend. On Hold offered the sharply observed tale of some males preference to withdraw when the going gets tough in a relationship, and scored with every line. Her cautionary advice to neither lie to a partner, nor tell him the whole truth either, had an air of veritas about it, whilst Migration, about her time in Zimbabwe, was lyrical and beautiful.

Antony R Owen hosted in his usual relaxed, but authoritative style with Mal Dewhirst remembering his time in Cork with three poems in tribute to his time as guests of the Cork Poets. Writing in detail about someone else's home town is always high risk with cursory familiarity vulnerable to error and misinterpretation. It is a tribute to Mal's writing, and attention to detail, that neither flaw was apparent, indeed the natives Poets as one reflected that it was about time that they got around to writing about home turf themselves!

The Cork Poets appear at Fizz 10, Polesworth on Thursday 3rd November at the Tythe Barn, Polesworth, 7. 30pm, free admission. 1-11-11

Gary Longden


Hit the Ode

Victoria Pub, Birmingham

Organiser Bohdan Piesecki is a glutton for punishment. Not content with organising a seven nation dice slam a couple of weeks ago, he still found time to put on the regular monthly Hit the Ode.

As usual, it did not disappoint. Bohdan's pursuit of international stars is relentless and tonight we had Dizzylez from France who delivered a set “au poil”.

Speaking in French and English, and utilising a loop and  wooden beat-box (for train sound effects), he delighted, teased and entertained in an entertaining, multi-media presentation sometimes with translation on screen, sometimes without.

 His hip hop fascination was obvious (le Slam) as was his interest in call and response with Sur le Pont. Tonight he performed without musical accompaniment from his frequent on stage partner Skuba, but his energetic performance was never short of interest.  

Pret de la mere  stood out, cleverly using  the loop for an atmospheric sonic background of waves ebbing and flowing to underscore his vocal, reminiscent of the Roxy Music song Sea Breezes from their eponymous debut album. Bryan Ferry ( and particularly Brian Eno) would have liked it. My favourite was  Today we are Free,  an Orwellian satire with a pan European appeal, as our continent slides from rampant consumerism into the financial abyss.  

Tshaka Campbell was second on the bill for an impressive, yet slightly frustrating performance. His roots span London, New York and Los Angeles and his poetry draws  from all three locations. Commanding, charismatic, authoritative and lyrically dexterous, he had everything going for him.


The problem for me was that the material he chose, fine in its own right, somehow didn't quite hang together. The third part of a relationship trilogy set in the Bronx epitomised this, I felt that I was being offered a snapshot, when I wanted a film. A battle of the sexes pairing was also uneven, Love Hard for women was strong, You Gotta Know My Name, for men, surprisingly less so.

Brimful of energy and ideas it would be interesting to see Tshaka performing a full set in which he had time to breathe and establish his groove.  

Third on the headline bill were Type S, a newly formed Brum Supergroup of rising young talent comprising Matt Windle, MstrMorrrison and Jody Ann Bickley. Matt has been around performing for so long, and has achieved so much, that it is easy to forget how young he is.

Opening up, he offered the assuredness of a pro with I Predict A Riot, a thoughtful youthful take on the summer disturbances, far removed from the braggadocio of the Kaiser Chiefs song of the same title. MstrMorrison is developing into a substantial artist with his opus April's Eyes showcasing his talent. Although a performance piece, the more I hear it, the more I am struck by its depth with Springsteenesque explorations of struggle and redemption. Sometimes the rightful precociousness of youth can cause performers to over reach themselves in the subjects they tackle. His understated style make his words and story even more compelling.  

MstrMorrison is now on the cusp of being able to be more ambitious in the material he attempts as his core craft is so strong, watch out as he does so.

Jody Ann Bickley took to the stage for an emotional appearance, made as she only just starts her recovery from a debilitating illness.


She is a fantastic voice  with a maturity of observation way beyond her years. Her reflections on a lost love, and how she might see things in the future was poignant, her vision of what everlasting love might look like for a couple in their dotage wistful, elegiac and a delight. All the Brum poetic community offer our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Jody Ann.  

And so to the undercard, which was probably the strongest I have seen at Hit the Ode and featured numerous HTO debutantes. The ever reliable Heather Wastie was given the onerous responsibility of opening the evening, and proved a safe pair of hands with the topical Halloween Nightmare and tales of black country butcher bloodletting sufficient to prompt mass vegetarianism.

Newcomer Chris Ewing's staccato  style of delivery was confusing, Suz Winspear's was not. Dressed resplendent in Gothic  garb, Suz teased and entertained in A Seduction is Attempted  - with an Ostend transvestite, and Dear Bridget, a study on how to commit a murder. Showy, fun, amusing and clever, a bit of an object lesson in how to do this performance stuff really! 


Jess Green's style and Jody Ann's are quite similar, confident, sassy and hip, she rattled through Beyond the Kettle and Scratchwood Green in some style. My appreciation of her first poem was enhanced by my having misheard the first title, inexplicably, as Bamburgh Castle.

This resulted in my mind racing into overdrive as I sought to find a link between the words and title – which didn't exist! Her explanation, and apology, in the latter poem that she only knows the lyrics to Queens Don't Stop Me Now as a result of forced indoctrination by a friend's mother, marked her out as a performer of taste and discernment.  

Nathan Williams, who has a remarkable likeness to Simon Bird in “The Inbetweeners, ”  opened the second half in bold style.  A View from the Dock was good, but the judge would have requested greater brevity. Fresh back on the Brum poetry scene after her stay in Syria, Elisabeth Charis lay down a distinctive and impressive marker of poetic intent, her extended piece on the sexualisation of young girls, and ill-judged female aspiration, was in the best feminist traditions, but inclusive with it, carrying everyone with her in a fine piece.

Ronnie Dawsey has a catalogue stretching back fifty of her seventy years. Wisely, she eschewed tales of the good old days in favour of Randomness and Without a Door  a bawdy and humorous tale which went down well. Amy Rainbow, fresh from her triumph at the Malvern Slam, closed the open mic section in barnstorming style. She combines a reserved, controlled presence, more usually associated with the High Table at a Dons dinner, with an acid tongue more commonly associated with the ladies toilets in a nightclub at 2am. Taunting suitors, rejecting marriage proposals, and demanding commitment is all in a day's work for Amy, great fun.  

Hit the Ode returns on 24/11 with Matt Harvey, broadcaster host of Wondermentalist, and  toast of the broadsheets, headlining. He is joined by the feisty, sassy and flamboyant  Catherine Brogan from Ireland in what is sure to be a brilliant night- arrive early. 27-10-11.  

Gary Longden



Western Pub, Leicester

This was the last Shindig of 2011, and served as a launch for Hearing Voices Vol 4, the house magazine of co-promoters Crystal Clear Creators.

I have had the pleasure of attending each event this year and it goes from strength to strength. Very well attended, it is defined by  the quality of the floor readers as much as the headliners.

Normally the floor readers are in awe of the headliners, here the headliners exchange anxious glances as the rest  perform! The standard is further enhanced by the device of a two minute curfew for the floor, which was uniformly and  courteously observed. This has the effect of ratcheting  up the standard still higher, as hugely talented individuals offer up only their best work.

It is rare indeed for performers to eschew the need to offer translations of Latin, yet instead to worry as to whether others will correct their Latin pronunciation. At Shindig that is the way it is. This unashamed pitch at excellence works well, bringing out the best in everyone. For it is about excellence, not elitism, with young students and the less experienced encouraged and welcomed.

The first half was promoted by Nine Arches Press with Matt Nunn overseeing proceedings. First headliner was Mal Dewhirst, of Polesworth Poets and Fizz fame, who covered much poetic ground in his set.

He name-checked the Pitmen Poets, and Alfred Williams - the Hammerman (Railway) poet, whilst sharing with us an innovative layer poem based around an archaeological dig which can be discovered, and read, different ways depending upon which layer you approach it from- innovative stuff. Mal has a strong sense of place in his work which physically manifests itself in the Polesworth Poetry Trail in which he has been so dynamically involved and from which he read Kites.

Closing the first half was Nine Arches press Editor Jane Commane who clearly relished the chance to perform her own work for a change rather than sorting out the work of others. She has a pleasing light touch with her poetry of the everyday, whether it be music, road by-pass protestors or gasbagging.


The second half was lead by Crystal Clear Creators impresario  Jonathon Taylor who also performed  a poem of his own, Neutron Star, which I found quite profound. His first headliner was Charles Lauder Jnr, from San Antonio, Texas by birth, but now resident in Leicestershire by choice. I enjoyed him very much. His languid drawl from the Deep South complimented his writing perfectly.

He also offered my favourite poem of the evening about the Stone Circles of Keswick, and the legend that they are wizards  turned to stone for some transgression by the gods. Whether it was the simple pleasures of Coffee, or the more demanding task of Finding Time  about Einstein's Theory of relativity, Charles was a stimulating and entertaining reader.

The closing headliner was Wayne Burrows, a distinguished literary figure ; editor, reviewer, poet and lecturer. In addition to bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mani, of Primal Scream and Stone Roses fame, he was also brimful with ideas.

The music connection must have influenced him subliminally, for  he visited translations of 1960's pop songs performed by young Czech and Polish girls even though he speaks no Czech or Polish. . . . . . . . . . Great fun,  and very entertaining. I have never thought of doing a poetic sequence on Apples, but Wayne has, which was lyrical and pastoral,  his sonnet sequence on impending economic doom was atmospheric and portentous.

Doing justice to the floor readers for the night would be impossible, such were the riches on offer, so I shall not attempt it. Instead I give mention to two performances which delighted me. Mark Goodwin's poetic account of climbing Cader Idris with his two year old daughter on his back, and the balance that was required to execute the task, was as beautiful and breathtaking as the views there. Deborah Tyler-Bennett's two poems from The Ladies of Harris's List, an 18th century guide to whores, evoked a wonderful sense of time and place, as well as being exquisitely written.

Shindig will be unwrapping its presents in December so next meets on Mon 30th Jan, 2012. Hearing Voices Vol 4 is available from Crystal Clear Creators, and myself. 24-10-11

Gary Longden

http://www. crystalclearcreators. org. uk/

http://www. ninearchespress. com/ 


Third Malvern Annual Slam

Malvern Youth Centre

IT WAS fitting that Behind the Arras should make the effort to attend this Slam as the Youth Centre has closure hanging over it, to be determined on the 24th November, further evidence of the corrosive effect these harsh economic times are having on community facilities and the Arts.

 A full house turned out to support organisers Dee and Caitlin for a night of poetry boasting a particularly high standard. The convivial bonhomie in the bar beforehand was reflected in the competition after, one of respect and good humour.

Thirteen poets did battle over three rounds with Dee and Caitlin oiling the wheels, and offering a few poetic bon mots as well An intriguing aspect of this slam was the diversity of performer, and performance, with unusually, the majority having notes as a prompt.

Many Slams feature performers who eschew notebooks, sheets of paper or, (if you are lucky) a copy of a book of their printed work. I am never quite sure why. Poets are poets, not actors, and there is no requirement to have learned everything by heart, even though the freedom of movement and enhanced eye contact  which a recited poem affords is undeniable.


The opening round didn't have a dud in it, but Bill Thomas, Lydia Davis, Sarah Tamar, Ally Oxterby, Catherine Crosswell and Jezz were cruelly axed by the heartless judge as the competition requires. Sarah Tamar performed a defiant, overtly political piece Thatcher's Legacy, and Catherine Crosswell, one of my favourite poets, spoke of baking cakes in a way that only Catherine can. Bill Thomas, a secondary school teacher ruminated on Kitchen Appliances whilst Jezz opted for a brilliant discourse on the problems of being a Rural MC, and the struggles that Snoop Doggy Dogg never has to face – like sheep.

Audience participation was a prominent feature at this Slam with no fewer than three of the six semi finalists using the device. Heather Wastie's  Halloween Nightmare chorus worked the best in the first round and was seasonally  timeous. The nursery rhyme innocence, intertwined with malevolent intent, is a winner. Tim Cranmore disarmed us in the first round with a pastoral piece about the river Severn. Then cut loose with the Armageddon laden Where is God  in the second round complete with ensemble requiring chorus. Tim is a compelling, powerful performer, and he delivered this piece with a zeal  that Judge John Hathorne from Salem would have been proud of. I liked it.  

 Girolamo Savonarola (21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498) was an Italian Dominican Friar, Scholar and an influential contributor to the politics of Florence from 1494 until his execution in 1498.

He was known for his book burning, destruction of what he considered immoral art, and what he thought the Renaissance which began in his Florence—ought to become. He preached vehemently against the moral corruption of much of the clergy at the time. His main opponent was Rodrigo Borgia, who was Pope Alexander VI from 1492, through Savonarola's death in 1498.


As such, he is not an obvious choice for a call and response performance poem – unless you are Peter Wyton. The chorus, a reprise of the said Friar's, was chanted to the tune popularised by the television advert exhortation to, “Bring out the Branston”. Hugely entertaining, I am not sure what it all meant though. . .

Defending Champion Adrian Mealing spoke of bikes in the first round, and Dr Fox in the second. Not the ex Radio One DJ you understand, instead the ex Defence Minister. Poetry, like cartoons, has the capacity to cut the pompous and self righteous down to size. Adrian achieved this with some style, but sadly it was not enough to take him through to the final this time.

Dan Jukes, revealed to me over a beer afterwards that he is an occasional poetry performer, which is a shame, because tonight he shone and excelled, right through to the final. His style is quick fire, staccato and witty, with shades of Michael Barrymore, but without the swimming pool. Normally I tire of dyslexia poems, but in the hands of Dan it works, cleverly intertwining song titles as well without allowing the familiar lines to detract from the poem itself. His closing “list poem” It Might Be Good in Theory  was yet another triumph of artistic ingenuity over a well worn format, but not even that was enough.

Amy Rainbow is quite a talent, she combines the on stage authority of a Headmistress with the mischief of a St Trinian's schoolgirl. She is largely still during delivery, apart from a penetrating look to ensure that her audience is both listening closely, and getting the jokes – she need have worried in neither regard tonight. Self Mastery  had a killer pay-off line, I Don't  stands as one of the best poems of poetic misandry I have ever heard, and The C Word is destined to catch the audience out every time. Amy was a worthy winner, and although the culling process en route can be a harsh affair, the two best performers on the night invariably make the final, as was the case here.  

And so, with the cheers of acclamation ringing in Amy's ears, the evening came to a close. If the centre fails to beat closure I am sure there will be no shortage of alternative venues keen to host this fine event in the future. Organisers Dee and Caitlin are also promoting Ian McMillan at the Coach House Theatre, Malvern this  Friday 27th October. 22-10-11.

Gary Longden


Spoken Worlds

Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent

Spoken Worlds is normally the domain of Gary Carr as master of ceremonies, but this month Gary was indisposed, leaving Mal Dewhirst (pictured below) of Polesworth Poets to step into the breach to keep the wheels turning, and a fine job he made of it too, ably abetted and supported by Gary's daughter Kirsty, and his wife.

The Old Cottage Tavern is a bit of a rarity these days, a back street boozer, surrounded in part by old terraces, and in part by  bland modern replacements.

Emphatically a drinkers pub, none of that “Gastric” pub nonsense would work in the back streets of Burton. Instead a good pint, at a fair price, overseen by a landlady who greets you with a hello on the way in, and a goodbye on the way out, and who doesn't miss a thing.

There is an ongoing debate about what being British is. Perhaps it is to be found here? Where disparate souls meet in a first floor room, having climbed steep stairs, and a carpet that looks as though it has seen a fair few Prime Ministers. Where you sort your own chairs and tables, and no-one bothers you, and you bother no-one. And you entertain yourselves, sharing a love of words, and people. It's a bit like a large lounge bar chat, except that some of the chat lasts for up to three minutes and is often in verse.

Ray and Terri Jolland will entertain you with a humorous sketch that they just happen to have brought along – with props. Andy Biddulph will rail against the Government, well any Government actually. Steph Knipe will tell you what it's like to go back to Lisburn, and remember what it was like to fall in and out of love as a teenager again, whilst Mal Dewhirst will give a teenage boy's perspective.


Margaret Torr might observe that 30 years on in a relationship, things are not quite the same, Janet Jenkins might reflect on the game of love, and Jan Arnold might just be lost in transit. There were no menus lying around upstairs, and if there were, they would surely offer fan of melon, salmon with new potatoes in martini crème sauce, followed by baked Alaska – Steph would make sure they did.

When the chat has been going on for a bit, Rob Stevens will pull out his guitar and sing a song in a key at odds with his robust frame – perfectly, before Richard Young takes to the stage. The words sound familiar, and they rhyme, but you can't quite place them, until it sinks in, and everyone smiles and almost all quietly accompany him as he recites Ernie – the Fastest Milkman in the West , and his fearsome duel with ten ton Ted from Teddington.

Spoken Worlds next meets on 25/11 with, unusually, a special headline act – Ash Dickinson. Ash Dickinson is a writer, poet and comedy performer. He is also a multiple slam champion- including Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Solihull, the Museum of Scotland and the BBC Radio 4 Midlands Slam in 2009. In the previous BBC National Slam in 2007 he progressed through the Scottish heats, eventually finishing among the top 8 in the UK and  was runner-up in the 2011 UK All Stars Slam.


In the summer of 2011 Ash embarked on a six-date feature tour of Canada, a country where he also performed shows in 2006 (including the Winnipeg Fringe Festival). He has also performed in Australia (including a regular run at a comedy club in Adelaide), the United States, and New Zealand. Having hosted his own weekly poetry night in Wellington he was invited to perform at the 2002 New Zealand Festival.
Ash had a four-star rated one man show at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the following year formed part of Scotland's renowned Big Word during its run there.

He has appeared at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the Glasgow Comedy Festival, the Bristol Poetry Festival, The Larmer Tree, The Wickerman, the Stratford Poetry Festival and The Camden Crawl among many other events. He has headlined and featured at shows throughout the UK including Express Excess, The Poetry Shack, Brixtongue, Bang Said The Gun (all London), Wicked Words (Leeds), Sundown (Southend), Forked (Plymouth), Write Angle (Petersfield), The Stand Comedy Club (Edinburgh) and many others.
Widely published in newspapers, magazines and poetry presses, he has compered busy cabarets and music nights, performed at private functions and supported bands. He is heavily in demand to run poetry workshops. His media appearances include BBC Radio, The Times, The Scotsman, Metro and Sweet TV. 14-10-11

Gary Longden


Hit the Ode – International Dice Slam

Fazeley Studios, Birmingham

Bohdan Piesecki has been personally responsible for shifting the profile of Birmingham's poetry scene up several gears with his monthly “Hit the Ode” series at the Victoria Public house in the past year.

Now, he has gone still further, assembling seven poets from across Europe to entertain a large audience for this special event in conjunction with the Birmingham Book Festival and several other national and international Arts sponsors.

The format was innovative. The seven poets were to perform, in English or their native tongue, be scored on the roll of a dice, with a panel of expert judges on hand to entertain and justify the scores.

The setting was new, and exciting. Fazeley Studios is a refurbished and newly created space, the new home of Ikon Eastside, stylish, airy with a pleasingly louche ambience. For the evening to work, the judging panel needed to have been chosen wisely, and Bohdan had done just that. Jonathan Davidson has been a key figure in regional and national literature circles for many years, Kim Trusty is  a Canadian writer based in Birmingham, and Professor Luke Kennard a spectacularly successful, and supremely talented, Birmingham University academic, poet and playwright.

Jonathan offered sage observations, Kim was a paragon of common sense, whilst Luke invoked the wisdom of bacchanalia with a fine line of wit which  kept the audience entertained throughout. Responding to playful suggestions that his generous offer of wine and pizza to audience members (who were later to vote for best judge)  might amount to unfair influence, he acknowledged that, “mistakes have been made, ” with a sincerity that another Doctor, a certain Doctor Fox, might be wise to emulate!

First to perform was Swede, Henry Bower. A renowned hip-hop artist in his homeland, Henry's long hair and beard was reminiscent both of Rasputin and ZZ Top, although he said that he was often mistaken for either a terrorist, or Santa Claus! Dog food  was a marvellous existentialist journey about many things, but not dog food. I Like Darkness  was playfully psychopathic. It was a strong and confident start to the evening performed in English.


Bernard Christiansen, from the Netherlands, claims to have invented the Dice Slam format and instantly changed poetic tack. His set was delivered in Dutch, with English subtitles by Anna Arov. Quirky, offbeat, combining the surreal and absurd, his style initially caught the audience off-guard, and then delighted them as they caught on to what he was about. If David Lynch did poetry, this is what he would be writing. If the juxtaposition of conductors and buckets, camels and job opportunities, and beetroots and sisters intrigues  you – Bernard is your man.

For England, from Brixton London, Indigo Williams stepped up to fly the flag  in an impassioned set. Call Me By My Name was a fantastic piece on identity, spiky but beautiful, and lyrical as well, the latter traits of which also shone in Shadows and Bricks. A very strong performer, she dispensed with a microphone and enthralled the audience. My only reservation was that the powerful opener Statistics, about human stereotypes,  itself lurched into stereotype.

After the interval Biru from Portugal gave an emotional performance, in Portuguese, but with English subtitles,  focusing on the plight of the homeless with On the Road of Life  and Please Mend My Heart. Bold and tender, it was poetry which echoed the sentiments of early 20tth Century American Bluesmen.

In 2007, Grzegorz Bruszewski was 26th on a list of the fifty most culturally active Warsaw citizens. Tonight he represented Poland is some style, touching on the five senses and the joys of jazz before offering a tribute to Miron Białoszewski, the distinguished Polish poet and literary figure. His question, “ why is minimalism such a long word ? ” was the best one-liner of the night.

During the interval I spotted the hunched figure of a young woman who was obviously due to perform. “Nervous?” I asked, “Yes” she confided. Yet once Abby Oliveira, from Derry Northern Ireland, bounded onstage, you would never have guessed. She delivered a blinding set of commitment and brio. Priestess,  about urban deprivation was delivered with evangelical zeal, Signs was no less political. Her energy, sincerity and linguistic dexterity was an immediate hit with the audience, the enthusiastic applause fitting for a fine performer and performance.


To close proceedings Bas Boetcher from Germany took to the stage.  Babylon 2. 8  warned of the global power of the likes of Google, whilst Flower Blossom was a wry, and very funny romp through the way that flower blossom images have been commandeered for a wide range of seemingly unsuitable purposes. With classic Teutonic efficiency, he took control of the computer delivering images and translation himself, the technology of which was very powerful with, In the Loop a rewarding fresh take on the familiar theme of the predictable monotony of life.

One of the joys of multi-lingual performance, the ambiguity of language, was evident in  Boetcher's final Believing in it, which was a cautionary tale about believing in anything too much, because the German word for believing can also mean to die. His content was the strongest and most varied of the night, his unassuming air as he finished surely came from the confidence of a man thinking, “veni, vidi, vici”.

The night concluded with the audience voting Jonathan Davidson the judge of the night, the arbitrary roll of the dice which awarded an individual score for each performer was forgotten, and served only to provide a platform for the judging panel to delight, entertain and impress with their observations.

This gave the denouement to proceedings a slightly unbalanced feel as the enthusiastic audience would, I think have relished the opportunity of crowning their favourite poet on the night also, mindful of the distance and effort that they had put in to attend, but no doubt this wrinkle will be ironed out as the format develops.

Such was the artistic success, and audience turn out, that hopefully this will become a regular feature of the Birmingham Book Festival week. ” Hit the Ode” returns  to  the Victoria PH  on 27/10 and 24/11  with Dizzylez/ Tshaka Campbell and Matt Harvey/ Joe Coghlan respectively  13-10-11.

Gary Longden


Nikki Bennett

Streetly Library

The Midlands is awash at the moment with  spoken word events, sometimes pulling in hundreds, as at Cafe Yum in Birmingham last week.

Yet the backbone  of poetry is often to be found in Libraries, with dedicated and knowledgeable librarians guiding enthusiastic bands of writers, and camp followers. The Walsall Library service is particularly active in this regard with Sonia Dixon in the vanguard of facilitating, and promoting the form. Last week she brought Matt Harvey  to Walsall. This time she brought Nikki Bennett to Streetly Library to reprise her successful previous appearance of some two years ago.

Lichfield Poets provided a formal supporting role, with leader Janet Jenkins masterminding a two hander performance in which she told of the dangers that frogs face in ponds when copulating from renegade mobile phones, and her experiences in  Galleries, the latter of which was memorably alliterative.

The event was titled “Performance” and the Lichfield poets were followed by numerous floor readers, many of whom should be writing, and performing more regularly.  It is always a delight to see how the less practised feign reticence initially, only to gain confidence as they see others perform. The originally  reluctant and ostensibly unprepared poet who subsequently produced a printed 500 word opus from his inside pocket being a case in point!

However the person whom everyone had come to see  in a strong turn-out was Nikki Bennett. Nikki has had six collections of poetry published and she has performed her poems at various poetry festivals and poetry group readings in the UK. She has also read her work in the USA and Europe, including at the conferences of International Women Writers' Guild (New York State) and Geneva International Writers conferences.

She is a great believer in poetry as both communication and therapy, and in particular the highlighting of women's issues and circumstances. Her collection Love Shines Beyond Grief was nominated for the 'Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry' 2010. As well as the collections, her poems have appeared in various magazines including: Crazy Lit, De Facto, Hearing Voices, Magma, Partners' Aspire, Ravenglass, Artemis and roundyhouse. Nikki is a Stanza Rep for The Poetry Society UK, and founded 'uni-verse' poetry group in Bath, which promotes and celebrates international poets and poetry.


Some female poets who fly the flag for women's issues seemingly make a point of writing to exclude men, not Nikki. Although written from a female perspective the inclusive nature of her writing was warm and accessible to men too. Poems form Love Shines Beyond Grief  and Pink Nightie Poems told of fortitude in the face of serious illness. I shy from the platitudinous descriptions that some give of battles and victories in these situations. The patient doesn't choose their fate, and there is no shame in being weak, nor ultimate triumph in bravery – you do your best. Reassuringly, Nikki's light touch reflected that. No substitute was a poignant reminder that no photograph can replace a person, Medical Time a well observed wry look at the unique relationship that hospital wards have with time and how at odds they are with the outside world.

Face Value Families  was a wry look at how Facebook can assist, but should not lead, cohesion for extended families, Clothes Memories both sharp and wistful. Certainly  my favourite of all the poems she read. Only afterwards did I discover that she was in transit form South Wales to a new life in the Wirral, the poem may have had a greater immediacy than was immediately apparent. The process of having a clear out of your wardrobe, yet with each item having a story to tell, lived as she told it. As delightful after her performance in person, as she was whilst reading, it was clear that Nikki has much to tell, not only from her published work, and I suspect more to explore and reveal.

Further publications of Nikki's work include The Pebble Collection, The Places We're touched, Love Poems and Trans- Siberian Travels as well as two CD collections. 12-10-11

Gary Longden


For more information on Nikki, visit: www. nikkibennettpoems. com

Autumn Celebration:Poets for Change,


This is amongst the harder poetry events I have  had to review, such was the diversity and quality of what was on show.

Organised by Helen Calcutt, and supported by her father David, who acted as master of ceremonies,  this evening was originally scheduled to be part of the international Poets for Change event on 24th September.

Venue availability resulted in things slipping back a couple of weeks, and wisely Helen decided to wrap in an autumnal theme to allow for the cooling temperatures and longer evenings. All addressed the theme of change with passion, diversity and imagination. Such was the impressive number of poets, and poems that I can but offer a flavour of the fare on offer.

Penny Hewlett was in customarily feisty mode, flying the flag for sacked British Airways workers and teaching me a new word “ratiocinated” the title of her following  poem. Most poets opted to dodge tackling  political change head on, but Phil Simpson was a welcome exception, with the spiky Socially Transmitted Diseases. World mental health day fell on the Monday after. Jane James, whom I admire enormously, delivered a powerful double salvo in support of that cause entitled “Still Life” and “The Assessment”.

Worcestershire is a hotbed of poetic talent at the moment and two particularly strong performers from that county strutted their stuff. Sarah James is the editor of the Worcester Literary Festival magazine “Be”, and an accomplished poet in her own right, “Somalia” and “Double Bluff” shone. She also presented work by fellow Worcestershire Poets Jenny Hope, Deborah Alma and Catherine Crosswell, her entire set is viewable on the videolink at the end of this review. Sarah was followed by Ruth Stacey whose work has an unerring ability to grab and shock, “Bitch” did just that.


There is a popular misconception that performed poetry has to comprise a rhyming rant to succeed and gain mass approval. Three poets disproved this. Janet Smith tackled domestic violence, “Control”  with her customary economy of writing and power, before launching into the beautiful “Pacific, ” which is available in the most recent edition of “Abridged”. Jacqui Rowe regaled us with 30 haikus from her recent residency in Warwick, whilst Samantha Hunt hypnotised with her chilling “Dolls House” about child abuse.

Antony Owen has made his name with powerful war poetry, yet his writing is far from one dimensional, and his forays into the world of the blue collar worker are equally impressive. No-one could suggest that Heather Wastie lacks diversity. In addition to contributions on her keyboard, she fought the corner for Kidderminster's subways, celebrated the £300, 000 defence of a tree, and delivered her signature “37 Hollybush St”. Roy McFarlane was making his debut appearance as “past” Birmingham Poet Laureate, it did not diminish his spirit. Political protest songs and poems are very tricky tasks, but Roy navigated these treacherous waters with great skill with the dignified and powerful “ What Do You See” highlighting the issue of deaths in police custody of disproportionately high numbers of black people, with an incident in Wolverhampton the vehicle for his protest, the Praetorian Guard of a very strong set.

From the floor, numerous poets impressed, Elaine Christie with “White Lions” and Mal Dewhirst with Half Mask amongst them  in an evening during which it was impossible to go on aural cruise mode, such was the range and depth  of what was on offer. 08-10-11

Gary Longden


Watch Sarah James perform her own, and fellow Worcestershire Poets, poetry at :

http://www. youtube. com/watch?v=cVTKut6XQE4

Parole Parlate

Little Venice, Worcester 

This installment of Parole Parlate coincided with National Poetry Day, one of numerous events across the country. The inauguration of the new Birmingham Poet Laureate in Brum on the same evening meant that some of the travelling regulars were caught up in proceedings there, one of whom, Jan Watts won the coveted title- well done Jan! 

Parole Parlate regular Suz Winspear got the evening off to a flying start with a particular favourite of mine, “Princess of the Cardboard Pavillions” – the title says it all and I won't spoil it for those of you who may catch up with Suz at one of her many performance locations. She gently eased herself into a four piece set covering a day during the time of the Birmingham riots, at the end of which she had decided it was probably wiser to leave the city centre and watch any events on television. Cleverly observed, written with a tongue in cheek attitude and delivered to a receptive audience. She finished with “In My Dreams”, a slightly erotic poem which left the audience smiling.  

A newcomer to Parole Parlate, Helen McCarthy-Watson was bright and bubbly as she delivered her poem dedicated to her mother. She covered eloquently the diverse emotions of wanting to be strong enough to break away from the safe haven of her mother but discovering later on in life how she still needed her mother to stay on this earth as long as possible. She finished with a very short poem “Aroha Juliana” (Maori for love) which was very evocative. Not overly sentimental it would be nice to welcome Helen back again.  


The style altered as Michael R. Brush read his short story entitled The Healthy Air of Morning which took the audience into the world of pimps and prostitutes. Dramatic and poignant piece of prose.  

Michael Thomas, told us about his mother who had been a district nurse, and his father whose most cherished possession was his A35 car, car which got them to holiday destinations to everyone's surprise as it was so ancient. If I quote the line “ foam exploding from the seats” I'm sure your imagination can do the rest. Two more pieces followed painting with his words the pictures other people have of us. His poem about an urban myth – removing the “house stone” from a building and thereby ensuring it would fall down, played on the imagination of an eleven year old who made it his mission to remove said stone and see what happened. His final poem brought home that not only academic brains indicate talent, some people are good at football!

Jerry Beskobee delighted with his “Happy Daze” a poem he assured us, written under the influence of drink at a pub poetry competition when two pints of real ale had to be consumed before writing commenced. The conviviality of drinking and smoking was not wasted on the discerning audience and he was well received. “Forget me Not” had a harder punch when Jerry's alter ego, White Van Man, complete with cap and flag, gave us Ode to England which ranged from Punch and Judy to advising the EU that Britain is now full!

Beth Jellicoe, another newcomer to Parole Parlate presented three pieces, “Emma”, “The World” and “The Suburbs” which dealt with the aspirations her mother had for her, her GAP year and France. A quiet but confident performance.  

mstr morrison has established himself as another of Parole Parlate's firm favourites and his portrayal of “Jasmine” (our second prostitute of the evening) could not have been more different from that of

Michael R. Brush's story. His “String and Stars” poem will, I am sure, get many more airings. Always a pleasure to have mstr morrison on stage.  


After an extremely hectic and, no doubt, stressful day in Birmingham, Gary Longden finally arrived and took to the microphone with  a double-handed exchange of insults, carpings, criticisms and finally a gentle warming of emotions with Amy Daffodil Rainbow. On her last visit to Little Venice, Amy had told us about a proposal of marriage and explained why, under no circumstances whatsoever, would she accept. This was an extremely amusing piece but Gary had mused on this on his journey home and had become quite irate, apparently, on behalf of the luckless suitor. An exchange of emails led to a most enjoyable conversation in rhyme, their two styles complimenting each other very well. I am sure this is just the start of a meaningful and talented poetic relationship, at least I hope so.  

The headliner of the evening was Ray Antrobus, a poet I had missed on his visit to Parole Parlate in February. A slick and confident performance coupled with the “likeability” factor were in abundance with his opening piece “The Sober Guy at the Party”. A clever second piece was taken from lines he had written down from dreams he had and weaved together. Gently moving into “Daz” he told of ex lovers meeting up and whether or not to pretend they were now different people. His particular slant on the London riots was portrayed through “How to photograph a riot” – observed and edited purely as seen through a camera lens but no less powerful than an emotional human outpouring. He brought his set to a close with “Conversation with Grandma” a charming and gentle account of a very ordinary conversation which obviously will stay in his heart.  

Parole Parlate, I think it fair to say, has now established itself on the poetic map. It often attracts well known poets from London, thanks to the co-operation of Apples and Snakes, and other well known poets from throughout the Midlands are asking for places each month. An intimate atmosphere, a supportive, friendly and rapidly growing audience, coupled with Italian food (not compulsory but very hard to resist) make this an excellent night out in the centre of Worcester. Parole Parlate next meets on Thursday 3rd November. 06-10-11 

Maggie Doyle


Birmingham Poet Laureate Tour

Matt Harvey – National Poetry Day

National Poetry Day is now the vehicle that the Birmingham Library Service uses to promote and announce the new Birmingham Poet Laureate.

I was fortunate enough to be shortlisted this year for the position myself, so what follows is a personal insight into the day. For the first time, instead of the position being awarded on the basis of submissions and interview only, the poets were to be taken on tour, and the four short listed poets were to be the guinea pigs.

The opening performance was at the Ikon Gallery, Oozells St, which is dominated currently by the Sedko Nobakov exhibition, from a balcony overlooking the foyer area, in which a decent sized crowd assembled- and stayed. A good start. They liked us. Next stop was the Main Library Foyer where the Birmingham Book Festival, which was launching on the day had a base. Foyers, it seems, are good, and another respectable crowd assembled to hear us hopefuls for a very well received set. Then on to Cafe Blend, the best venue to date with a stage and microphone. Unfortunately our time slot coincided with the mid-afternoon lull, which the valiant efforts of the poets struggled to lift both in terms of numbers and spirits. Our final spot on the tour was at Cafe Zelig in the Custard Factory which was the undoubted highlight, and used the tour as part of an ongoing “Arts All Over The Place” initiative. A large crowd, assembled by the indefatigable Catherine Crossley, was treated to performances enhanced by impromptu accompaniment from a double bass player, with whom Jan Watts   worked very effectively, as the last round of poems on the theme of games or Birmingham were recited.


The nominated poets each had quite distinct strengths. Joanne Skelt offered serious reflective poetry delivered with energy and commitment. Jan Watts included wry humour and sharp observation  in her lengthier pieces. Marcia Calame oozed charisma and warmth with every well chosen word. Last, but not least, outgoing office holder Roy McFarlane acted as master of ceremonies throughout, and entertained with his poems about bicycles in Amsterdam, and identity in Birmingham, both audience favourites with call and response elements.

Cafe Yum, also in the Custard Factory, was the venue for the finale during which each poet was able to cut loose with a poem of their own choice – the relief in being allowed to do so, and the benefits thereof, were immediately apparent in an entertaining and inspiring quartet of deliveries. But before the winner was announced we were entertained by the brilliant Matt Harvey.

Matt Harvey is the unassuming darling of the intelligentsia, beloved by The Times, Guardian and Independent, much broadcast, and all round good guy. His trademark is an erudite, but not elitist, and pithy wit, with charming, daring but pleasing rhyme. It was an enormous coup to secure his services and he did not disappoint. “Works Perks”  opened his set- and brought the house down, his onomatopoeic tennis poem delighted. I hope that we will be seeing a lot more of him in Birmingham.

Jan Watts was crowned Birmingham Poet Laureate for 2011/12 a role she will surely fill with distinction, if not a little trepidation, after the universally acclaimed success of her predecessor, Roy McFarlane. The combination of a nationally renowned poet, public laureate coronation, and launch of the Birmingham Book Festival, was an undoubted success which the sold-out, packed to the rafters crowd of over two hundred clearly enjoyed, and should certainly provide a template for the event in future. 06-10-11

Gary Longden


Poetry Train

Britannia Hotel, Wolverhampton

This is an event which Behind the Arras has been meaning to get to for some time. Finally happenstance fell sweetly, and I  caught up with the September instalment of this monthly event.

The Britannia Hotel itself is a middle ranking city centre establishment which clearly pedals hard to prosper in these difficult economic times.

Busy, with a range of functions happening, I was surprised to be offered a curry with the pint I had bought at the bar – value for money is clearly something the Britannia believes in on a Wednesday night. The venue itself was a downstairs conference room although the exact room varies according to availability, but the direction boards from the foyer were clear enough.

Master of ceremonies is poet, author, artist and sculptor Tony Stringfellow whose easy manner and credibility eased the evening along gently, but purposefully. As well as overseeing proceedings he both read a few of his own poems and read a selection of poems entered into an NSPCC sponsored competition organised by Stuart Favell. For the latter, the audience were asked to rank a collection of nine submissions in a vox pop.

Inevitably, the standard set by Tony was formidable. Past-ex  amusingly told of a past love, Princess movingly juxtaposed the pride that all of us fathers feel for our daughters with the hard times that can befall some. But it was To the Moon which really caught my ear. The recent fortieth anniversary of the first moon landings has prompted many reflections from  wizened fifty somethings recalling the youthful wonderment of  Man's greatest technological achievement. Moondust , by Andrew Smith, definitively caught the zeitgeist of the era with his interviews of all those who had set foot on the moon before old age claimed them.


Tony's perspective was somewhat more cynical as he contrasted the naive optimism of the time with some of the illusions of the contemporary sense of achievement. His line that Woodstock was “high on hypocricy” was the embodiment of the  moral confusion which ebbed and flowed between the sixties and seventies.

The assembled poets took part in an egalitarian round robin of readings enabling a good few to be aired. Jack Edwards impressed with On the Night Gary Hit the Town (not about me!), Scribbles and Sonnet, Martin Jones' memorable  contributions were as definitively  idiosyncratic as ever, and Stuart Favell amused with a series of poetic shorts.

A good quality microphone ensured that all were easily heard in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere at a readily accessible City Centre venue, the 10pm finish offering those who needed to use public transport a chance to do so too. A fine night, led by a distinguished literary figure, Poetry Train next plays on 26/10, but Tony is leading another one off open mic night at the Cock Inn, Holyhead Road, Wellington, at 8pm on 17th October. 28-09-11.

Gary Longden


Poetry Bites

Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

A packed house, the fullest I have ever seen the Cafe for poetry, turned out to see headline act Bernadette Cremin make her Birmingham debut, a just reward for her trip up from Brighton on the South Coast.

Bernadette has an impressive record of published work with two collections from Waterloo Press, Speechless and  Mining Silence due to be followed by New and Selected by Salmon Press in a year's time.

A characteristic of Poetry Bites is that headliners are not given extended, obsequious introductions, they stand or fall on their own merits, Bernadette herself chose also to give little personal information away, resulting in the pressure being on the performance and the poetry, both of which were more than up to the test. Split into two sections to close the first and second halves of the evening, her poetry was  diverse, personal, and engaging.

Excerpts from Altered Egos left us wanting more, a six part series of insights into the fortunes of six very different women, their typically tragic love lives and rooms which “smelt of excuses and kicked off shoes”. Suicide was her bravest, and best, piece of the night with the shadow of Ian Curtis a brooding backdrop. The sadness of suicide is routinely covered in poetry, the anger that it can engender for those left behind less so, and this was a fine attempt at exploring such emotion. Her set left two thoughts with me. Admiration for the fey, yet telling nature of her work, and a desire to find out lots more about what is driving her writing.


A burgeoning body of “open micers” took to the stage in numbers which might have posed problems to the length of the evening if all had not displayed admirable self- restraint. Fortunately the first few stayed within the three minute/one or two poem framework, and the rest followed suit. It only takes a few to interpret three minutes as four, and one or two poems as three or four, and an audience can be in for a very long night. Attempting to shed light on much which illuminated is no easy task so I shall name check on a wholly arbitrary basis.

Jon Morley is a hugely impressive poet with a passionate interest in Caribbean literature. Currently working at the Drum in Newtown, Ratid explored Afro-Carribbean dialect around Birmingham now, Links  considered present day Birmingham and its Afro-Caribbean community with Birmingham of the past, and how all intertwine. Brilliantly conceived, the latter was my favourite poem of the evening.

Joel Lane is traditionally the man to be first at the barricades, tonight was no exception. In a time of £1m a month footballers and bankers who can lose that in a few minutes he did well to remind us of past Coventry MP Dave Nellist who insisted on drawing the average wage for a skilled worker only when he was in office as well as offering a Riots poem with The Wake. Antony Owen and Janet Smith were on the ramparts too. Antony reflected on mechanisation in car factories and unfair trade with the new world before leaving us with a chilling snapshot of the 9/11 jumpers in Liberty. Janet explored a statue of Lucifer and pathology department after hours, before a defiant account of a stay in the Cells.


 Adele Faulkner, aka Dotti Bluebell part sang of Love and Religion combining beautiful lyricism with wry poignancy, the latter a feature of both Penny Hewlett's heart wrenching Clearing Out and Jan Watts' Close to Ducks, the latter a plaintive  ode to death. Yet the evening was by no means sombre with Mary Shear the star of the light stuff. The Ideal Man was great knockabout fun, Chocolate provided one of those classic “did she really say that ?” gasps as she moved on to the next line! 

Poetry Bites next meets on November 22nd when the headliners will be local author (Ghost Town Music) and poet, Bobby Parker, and Joseph Horgan. Horgan was born in Birmingham to Irish parents and currently lives in Cork. He won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for poetry in 2004. He writes a weekly column for the Irish Post, reviews and contributes to radio and television. His first collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea, was published in 2008. Last year, he published his second collection A Song at Your Backdoor.  A Poetry Bites special, in support of Amnesty International also plays on 8 December.   27-09-11 

Gary Longden


Bilston Voices

Metro Cafe, Church St, Bilston

Bilston Voices has one of the most loyal non-performing audiences in the Midlands, there is no fleshing out of attendance by open-mic performers here.

They come to hear a set bill. Yet that does not mean that organiser Emma Purshouse rests on her laurels. This month, she  ran  a Ghost Writers initiative. This enables writers to have their work performed anonymously by volunteer performers.

It also offers writers who eschew performing, either from preference or lack of confidence, a platform to have their work played in front of an audience. The result was an unusually diverse collection of poetry, monologue and drama.

By far the most challenging work was a piece written by Bill Dixon, which he co-performed with Ros Trotman,  entitled Midsummer Night. A surreal Gothic nightmare, it features  two voices performing simultaneously and resembles freeform jazz for spoken word.

Having a male and female voice is vital as the difference in pitch makes the conflicting voices easier to pick out. As the story unfolds it is impossible to follow the poem in total, only those parts you choose to follow from the individual performers. You are constantly having to decide who to listen to with your attention veering wildly as keywords compete for your attention.


As a consequence each performance is unique, as you will never hear the same sequence of words in the same order. Brilliantly and daringly conceived, Bilston Voices should be proud to have showcased such an innovative concept.

Another extended piece, by Jill Tromans, really caught my ear. A comedy drama set in the Glassmaker's Arms with some locals. Funny, entertaining and sharp it was one of the most enjoyable comedy readings I have heard for a long time, ably assisted by some very good spoken performances from the cast. Although written, and performed, in strong Black Country dialect I believe this has potential on a much broader stage.

The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen Pet  were set in the North East, the Liverbirds and Boys From the Blackstuff in Liverpool – why not a comedy series from the Black Country? The characterisation was strong, the dialogue witty. If Jill can produce a body of work around this core, she may be on to something.

Nick Pearson is an Offa's Press poet who read extensively from his collection Made in Captivity. I had never seen him before, I liked him very much. Casual, unpretentious and unassuming he breezed through a set of concise wry material that engaged and amused. Shallow Grave skilfully explored all those computers seized by the Met from news international and Coming Clean raised a chuckle from all who have experienced an Annual Development Review.

The thinly veiled sexual innuendo of Final Frame was a fitting set finisher. Yet my admiration for Nick was sealed by one line, when he dared to rhyme “Brillo” with “Amarillo” – genius.

The change in format, for this month only, was an undoubted success with numerous further vignettes too numerous to mention in a very satisfying mix. Bilston Voices meets again on Thursday 27th October, 7. 30pm. The usual format of a set bill of poets returns. 22-09-11

Gary Longden


Fizz 9

Polesworth Refectory, Polesworth

THIS WEEK saw the return of Fizz 9, at Polesworth Abbey Refectory where Antony Owen read from his collection ‘The Dreaded Boy'.  The evening began with Mal Dewhirst reading his poem ‘The Mound' and ‘Elegy' inspired by the recent Polesworth Abbey archaeological dig. Barry Paterson followed with ‘Three Welsh Theophanies' and ‘The Golden Weed' conveying the experience of diving in a small cove, Sicily Isles.

Andy Biddulph read his poem ‘Brothel Raid' about the Kosova war which portrays the horrors of war combined with personal agendas, followed by ‘Atrocity of War'. Ian Ward recited his poem inspired by a poetry workshops called ‘First Lines', ‘There's always an echo' – no matter the beginning, no matter the end – which he followed by the haunting beauty of ‘Crystal Cove'.

Terri Jolland's natty little poem about weather ‘Untimely' covered all the options - much like the weather people giving a weekend forecast. Gary Carr closed the opening section with ‘Rattle Void' painting a beautiful image of a boy, with stick in hand, alongside railings. He continued with ‘Love letter' a carefully crafted account, month by month, of pregnancy and love.

 After a short interval, Mal Dewhirst read a War poem by Augustus Stramm (1874-1915) a German poet, who conveys the suffering endured by the Germans. Antony Owen took centre stage, he was unapologetic for his poetry theme of war – and so he should be given his insight and knowledge.


Antony read form his current collection ‘A Dreaded Boy' which provides a stark contrasts to other war poems regards their view point and focus. Each poem is written through the eyes of the forgotten, the neglected – the invisible lives who exist during war. Antony read ‘Diamonds', ‘The Scarring Son', ‘To The East'. ‘The Quiet night of war', ‘Medusa', ‘Sangin', ‘Beyond Rwanda', ‘The scent of a son', ‘War envelopes' which contains the breath taking line ‘war makes poems of men'.

 Antony's final reading was ‘Conversations at a soldier's grave' in honour of Jeff Doherty. ‘A Dreaded Boy' is published by Pighog Press, ISBN 978-1-906309-17-6 is a collection to behold and treasure - the emotion strikes the heart but it cannot, and should not, be ignored. Please visit http://www. pighog. co. uk/ for further details. Antony's readings were performed against a musical back drop created and provided by Jimi Dewhirst of Hydranoidmusia.  

 After a second interval, Andy Biddulp read his requested ‘Stan the Man' poem which I'd never heard before, but which, delighted all. Ian Ward continued the night's theme of war and destruction with ‘9/11' and ‘What the country did to us on holiday'. Terri Jolland, continued the holiday theme with ‘Seaside' before switching to illness with ‘Patchwork cluttered quilt'. Gary Carr touched on aged reflection with ‘Responsibility', ‘Reincarnation' and poignant images in ‘Painting of a Rose'. Barry Paterson closed the evening with his poem ‘October on Hersal Common' depicting nature in all her glory.

As you can see a wide variety of talent crammed into one evening – all talented poets, of which some have published collections available for purchase:-

Antony Owen - ‘A Dreaded Boy' ISBN 978-1-906309-17-6

Antony Owen – ‘My Father's Eyes Were Blue' ISBN 978-1-906038-36-6

Barry Paterson - ‘Nature Mystic' ISBN 978-1-906038-29-8

Ian Ward – ‘Light and Darkness' ISBN 978-0-85781-150-9 

The next Fizz10 is scheduled for 7:30pm Thursday, 3rd November at the Tithe Barn, Polesworth – featuring the Cork Poets: Afric McGlinchey, Colm Scully and Jennifer Matthews, with an open mic session before and after the main attraction. Please checkout

www. pollyswords. wordpress. com for further details.  

Another date for my diary is Gary Carr's ‘Spoken Worlds' poetry evening booked for Friday, 14th October at The Old Cottage Tavern, Byrkley Street, Burton-on-Trent DE14 2EG – which I promise, I shall be attending. 20-09-11

Bernadette  O'Dwyer



Station Public House, Kings Heath

And so it was not so much farewell – as adieu. The final Rhymes, which had brought out probably the best attendance in memory turned out to be the final Rhymes in this format.

It was a fitting swansong. The Bill reminded us all of what had made the event a success in the past. Eight performers, seven of them local, brought out coteries of their own supporters and several poets not performing on the night happy to exchange poetic scuttlebutt. Long standing compere Lorna Meehan looked delighted, and a little overwhelmed, by the turn-out.

The first half required your first name to be James, the first of whom was James Barnett, a young cataloguing librarian from the University of Birmingham.

His milieu is the dark, brooding and introspective – quite handy if you work in a library, and he did it well. Always accomplished, impeccably rehearsed and confidently delivered, he visited Discipline, Fidelity, The Head Girl and Visiting Hour at the Care Home.

Curiously one poem was Untitled, which I would have thought would have been anathema to a librarian. His imagery was invariably meticulously crafted, the alliteration avoiding cliché. Yet as a whole, I felt it veered as a set a little too heavily towards bedsit angst, something which a re-jigged set, and experience, will easily redress.

James the Second was James Bunting. He had a game plan. It worked. It comprised four parts of around four minutes each, the last of which was entitled Introduction, neat eh? 

 Part one, Paradise was a lyrical personal cri de coeur  with shades of Milton's Paradise Lost and Dante's Inferno ingredients in a heady, satisfying, rich, mix. Part two, Politicians was the most edgy and satisfying. His lament that Kerouac, Dylan, Lennon and Ginsberg were from a fading generation and that no contemporary young performers were picking up the baton of dissent struck a chord which resonated with young and old  in the audience.


Promises  was a bold, bare paean to a wicked girl and offered a light change of course before he hit the home straight with Introduction, an amusing coda a compelling statement of poetic manifesto with the memorable line that he was, “Older than when he started this poem” a defiant invocation for us all to get on and do something with our lives. I loved it.

Lorna Meehan explained that the New Rhymes may feature extended poetic performance from individuals and ensembles. As if anticipating this turn of events, the Decadent Divas offered us a vernissage of things to come with their four part, twenty five minute piece, debuted at Artsfest a few weeks ago.

It featured  Charlie Jordan, Maggie Doyle, Laura Yates and Lorna herself. Shakespeare decided that there were seven ages of man, the Divas have opted for four stages of woman by articulating the voice of women from four succeeding decades. The  packed house in an intimate atmosphere clearly energised the Diva's, with some skilful editing, new material, shorter  soliloquies and more dialogue enhancing and improving this well written and entertaining poetic drama.

To date the women have articulated universal observations about their time of life. The opportunities for them to build up character and have them observing contemporary issues gives this ensemble plenty to go at. I want to learn more about the individual Divas, and I am sure we will.

A varied bill has always been a strength of Rhymes and David Calcutt offered a change of direction, and pace. He split his performance into two parts, the first incorporated writing inspired by his work with those experiencing dementia, the second was a series of poems about curlews inspired by a recent visit to Laugharne, home to Dylan Thomas.

Few would consider a series of poems on curlews, but few observe nature with the clarity and softness of touch of David, as we shared the exhilaration of the twists and turns of this magnificent bird. Inevitably poems about dementia will include the downbeat, but what shone through was the humanity of these poems which were sad, yet celebrated the human spirit too as the sclerotic effects of this disease take hold. Beautifully constructed, and inspiring.

To close the evening Naomi Paul took the stage, a wry, dry, witty performer who takes her craft very seriously. Deadpan humour is her speciality, and it worked a treat tonight, drawing the audience in as they waited for a twist – how good would she be alongside Jack Dee?

And she does do stand-up comedy too. But her craft is as much in the words as it may be with any joke that she delivers so performance poetry suits her well, an audience ready to appreciate the whole, not simply waiting for a gag.

The Catch about a past lover was particularly popular with the women in the audience, as was Displacement Activity and Leaving the House (she had clearly witnessed my wife's ability to make provisions for a trip into town rival Mallory's assault on Everest). She finished with my personal favourite, the tale of her personal  odyssey  to travel the Hippy Trail only to discover that it was all over with “The Grey Rabbit Bus”. Not even the lusty, booze and pharmaceutically fuelled antics of her fellow travellers could provide her with relief as: “ I am English. ”

The final Rhymes will be followed by. . . an end of year Slam in November, and a New Rhymes in the New Year- check the Facebook page for details. 21-9-11

Gary Longden


Three Poets walk into a Pub

Shifnal Festival

The Shifnal Festival is a vibrant affair in a village seeking to make its mark, and succeeding.

Ken Dodd opened the twelve day run of paid for and free events. Ian McMillan was appearing on the Wednesday, but on Tuesday a healthy crowd turned out at the Oddfellows Public House for a combination of headline performance from Simon Lee, Emma Purshouse and Mark Niel – our Three Poets (who) Walk into a Pub.

Mark is a stalwart of the Performance Poetry and Slam scene, I first saw him perform a couple of years ago when he won the Muck Wenlock Slam, and tonight he was on his usual effervescent, ebullient form, opening up with his signature My Name is Niel through the Lozell's Prayer and beyond. Few would imagine that having your name misspelled in a bank could result in an assault charge – but for Mark, it might!

Black Country girl Emma Purshouse was on home turf and breezed through her set of humorous observational and character based verse. Whether it be the wisecracking quips from builders to passing by women, the perils of choosing the wrong Welsh town to have an automobile accident in, or neighbours with twitching curtains, Emma  has a story to tell about it. Wry and always warm.


Solicitor Simon Lee opened both the evening and the headline slots. His skill lies not in the verbose and grandiose, but in concise pithy comment on the world around him. Whether it be Robert Preston's skills as an economics commentator, Patrick Moore's skills as an astronomer or Richard Whitely's skills as a Countdown presenter, Simon has a poem for them, and very well they went down too.

Local poets were strongly in evidence too, none more so than festival organiser and Marc Bolan expert Tony Stringfellow who entertained with Politician (not Cream's version!). Lyn Curtis lyrically wrote of Cardigan Bay, Steve Harrison predicted a riot with Words, and Jack Edwards stole his mentor's opening line, before launching into In the Pub. My favourite open mic performance of the night came from Jane James whose poem  Snoring combined the touching and comic in just the right measure.

With a strong bill of mainstream events it was a delight to see the success of what amounted to a Fringe event drawing in the travelling poetic hard core, local poetry aficionados, and a fair few people having a pint who wanted to see what all this poetry lark was about. They, like everyone, enjoyed themselves. 20-09-11

Gary Longden


Variety Night

Imperial Banqueting Suite, Bilston

The subtle assimilation of poetry into mainstream entertainment was much in evidence on this bill with three out of the four main acts having a poetic background, each artist taking the form into different areas.

A good turn-out in very agreeable surroundings provided a strong platform for them all to strut their very different stuff.

A variety bill requires a skilled compere to draw together the disparate elements and tonight we had one in comedienne Iszi Lawrence. A southerner parachuted into parochial Black Country territory, she needed to find her feet fast.

Fortunately she did so by spotting a school age girl in the audience, Katy. This provided an ongoing connection and theme as the evening advanced, even though it may have caused Lawrence to temper her material slightly, and Katy to wish that her aunt hadn't seated them at the front!

Her themes were safe; awkward flat mates, the perils of living with your mum, buying your first alcoholic drink, and her penchant for Alan Rickman's dulcet tones, (and beyond!). That easy manner was just what was required, as she breezed easily through her stand-up comedy between each act.

Heather Wastie is an artistic polymath well known on the Midlands circuit, tonight she performed as Montserrat Carbonarra, an opera singer whose orchestra was sadly otherwise engaged. But she was not going to let that put her off.

A beguiling mix of comedy, light verse and. . . . . . . . . . . . . operatic singing, she entertained and amused as the opening act, the highlight of which was when she had to improvise as an oboe too, as the oboe player also was unable to be present. The only disappointment being that the audience was ready for more when she finished – but that's opera singers for you!

Performing a poetry set in front of an audience on a variety bill is no ordinary task. Fortunately, Jo Bell is no ordinary poet. The current holder of the salaciously titled “Bilston Love Slam”, she titillated with her risqué material (all in the best possible taste, of course), and engaged with the sincerity and authenticity of the rest.


 A festival regular and Director of National Poetry Day, she knows how to play her audience. Topics including disastrous dates, internet dating, sailors and computers were comfortable crowd pleasers, but there was no dumbing down. Context, an assembly of discordant phrases was sharp and clever, Urban Mermaid her tour de force. The latter brilliantly juxtaposed the urban grime of the Manchester Canal by Piccadilly Station, with the myth of the Mermaids in a piece of startling, and inspired, imagery.

The second half commenced with an act that had, unlike Montserrat Carbonarra, remembered their instruments, in this case a double bass – and a triangle. Paul Eccentric and Ian Newman are The Anti-Poet, a beat duo who combine comedy, poetry and music in a winning, idiosyncratic mix. Paul is the voice ( and triangle player), Ian slaps the double bass and plays the straight man in the comedy. Having recently played twenty eight gigs in seven days they were unsurprisingly well rehearsed, opening with the defiant We Are Artists before taking in the trials of doorstep evangelists, fame with Overnight Success, and black humour with I Hope It isn't Anyone We Know. Original in material, and striking in appearance, the crowd loved them.

Headlining was Steve Best who blasted through an initially bewildering, but ultimately triumphant, set. Ablaze with energy, he appeared to get through half an hour's material in the first half minute as he manically told jokes, performed tricks and made faces. Once we had time to adjust, things began to settle.

We were watching a very accomplished visual comedian using props and gadgets combining slapstick, magic and stand-up. Balloons disappeared into his mouth, only for them to reappear with hankies from “the other end”, puns and one liners ricocheted around the room, and he had time to play the guitar, rather well. Very quickly the room reverberated to pretty much continuous laughter as one joke piled onto another with shades of Steve Martin, Charlie Chaplin and Tommy Cooper all rolled into one hugely enjoyable 21st century package. A worthy bill-topper and a big success on the night.

A variety night with variety, but producing a coherent whole, promoter Emma Purshouse has set herself quite a standard with this annual series of events. 17-09-11

Gary Longden


Spoken Worlds

Old Cottage Tavern, Burton Upon Trent

Poetry can be about pretty much anything, and so this evening  proved,  with subject matter confined only by the imagination of the poets.

When most people see a post box they think of letters, bills they have forgotten to pay or birthday cards which must be purchased and sent. Teenage children might see it as a useful confined space to place an ignited firework. A poet sees beyond this though.

Stephanie Lunn has weightier matters on her mind, such as the problems of posting desserts - trifles, custard, that sort of thing. And then there is the matter of meat. Neatly sliced ham should be okay, mince less so, the gravy gets everywhere. Finally, the question of posting beards, particularly when the man (or woman) is attached.

 Do sheep worry about the existentialist  dilemmas explored by Satre and Kierkegaard? Of course they do, and then there are toasters. . . . . . . . . . . Although most of us had not given these matters much thought, Steph has, and the world is a better place for it. Yet does not just deal in the surreal, The Camera Man, about a photographer who snatched a shot of a less than happy bride was wonderfully grounded, and resonant.

Andy Biddulph blazed through Economic Stability with a clarity that  Greek Finance minister Evangelos Venizolos would have found quite useful, and explored frontal lobe activity with an enthusiasm which 19th century Psychiatric Surgeons would have found heart-warming.

Some poets perfect the art of “less is more”, Bert Flitcroft and Janet Jenkins are two such poets. Bert wrote amusingly about Poetry workshops and the Busy Ones, Janet told of cats,  tennis as a metaphor for romance in Forty Love, and the aspirations of a want-to–be Heavy Metal singer. Both poets were pithy, economic, and fun.


Light and Darkness  is Ian Ward's current collection, but he also debuted work for future publication, exploring lost cities in Mesopotamia and the withered wychwoods of Alaska before the poignancy of Dear John and the film noir  influenced, Just Another Rainy Night.

Mal Dewhirst relishes rediscovering lost or forgotten poets, and often rediscovers them at a rate of knots.  August Stramm, the German WW1 poet  appears to have won him over more compellingly than most however, as he has majored on him several times in recent appearances and has now taken to performing entire poems of Stramm's  in German, as well as in translation.

He is right to do so. German war poetry has been all but ignored in this country. The sentiments are universal, the timbre of the words chillingly authentic. Anyone who owns a German first world war uniform must surely expect a call shortly! An intriguing coda to his performance was The Archaeological Strata of Polesworth Abbey, a clever piece on the dig in progress there in which which the lines on the page can also be accessed as a dig accesses different layers and truths.

Terri and Ray Jolland entertained with their customary amusing blend of light verse and drama, organiser Gary Carr eased the evening along interspersing introductions with some very strong poems of his own after which we marvelled at how his daughter had survived the mishaps of his parenting! Before the Briefing stood out for me, a wonderful, atmospheric account of the factory floor before the night shift commences. Spoken Worlds plays again on Friday 14th October, and a tip that John Cooper Clarke is playing the Flowerpot PH, Derby on the 21st, a week after. 16-09-11

Gary Longden


Oh, and happy birthday Gary from Behind The Arras 

The Decadent Divas

MAC, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham

ArtsFest is invariably a tremendous occasion, 3000 performers, 600 events at 50 venues over two days. It is also renowned for its eclectic bill.

This year was no different. It is also riven with risk. Have the right shows been matched with the right venues, at the right time? And free audiences tend to be uncommitted audiences. How many will turn up is unknown, how many will stay is uncertain.

It was against this backdrop that the Decadent Divas made their debut performance, outdoors on a warm, but blustery Saturday afternoon which threatened squalls.

As a regular on the Midlands poetry circuit over the past few years it has been fascinating to see how the form,  and performers, have evolved. However good the piece, the performer and the performance, there is a limit to how long any individual can hold the attention of an audience unaccompanied.

Of late, two trends have been emerging. The one person variety show has been gathering momentum, as have ensemble themed performances. This was an example of the latter.

The Decadent Divas comprise Lorna Meehan, Laura Yates, Charlie Jordan and Maggie Doyle, in ascending age order. All established poets in their own right, they came together to perform material created for the occasion reflecting the experiences of women in their 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's respectively.


A large crowd gathered on the MAC terrace for the show with numerous poetic luminaries in attendance. Each performed a self-penned piece about their own decade,  with some linking chat,  hosted by Charlie Jordan. It worked well. Sat behind a table with their own microphones, and fortified by a bottle of wine, it was a bit like watching a poetic version of Loose Women.

A gusting wind, and some ominous drops of rain, must have been disconcerting for the performers, but their professionalism shone through as they romped through an accomplished, amusing set.

The audience was not only substantial in size, but also diverse in age profile. As each performer delivered their section, you could see the audience members who identified with that decade warming to it.

Each performer met the expectation of  their counterparts in the crowd admirably, and the excellent amplification ensured that all could be heard. The half hour flew by, with the rain that threatened only arriving after the proceedings were complete. Well written and well executed it was an unqualified success.

What interests me most about this show is not simply where it is now, but where it can go. Already it has been booked for Rhymes on 21st September at the Station PH, Kings Heath. Indoors, and with hand held, rather than fixed microphones, I anticipate that the ability of the individuals to stand, walk and perform will add an extra dimension to the material.

In turn, that will also increase the opportunity for cross-diva interaction. There is no question that they have found a rich formula, the detail of which is open to evolution, revision and change as time goes on, and crucially, revisits by their audience. 10-09-11

Gary Longden


Night Blue Fruit

Taylor John's Vaults, Canal Basin, Coventry

There is something quite distinct about Night Blue Fruit. Most Poetry events in the Midlands go for early, punctual starts.

Here, both when folk arrive, and the performance time, is arbitrary. As if to anticipate  the arrival of Kalliope or Erato might offend them. As Stephen Dedalus remarked: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery. ”

And so as night came down, and enfolded the earth in her dusky wings, so the host for the evening, Antony R Owen portentously read Tenebrae.

Those same shadows, and the darkness that Antony evoked, seemed to cast a spell on the evening. The audience half seen, the performer indistinct in blue light.

The fragile frame of Janet Smith barely discernable, she  delivered a mesmerising, austere set in the half-light of the pathology department, or the moonlight under which the Owl cried.

 John Moody spoke of Joseph, but was that Priestley or Chamberlain ? I thought that we were In Birmingham, but suddenly  he evoked the spirit of the Easter Uprising in Dublin with, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst, are full of passionate intensity”, from Yeats.


Then there was the knowing look as he enunciated  “amnion”,  used almost as a codeword, in poetic cabal with Janet.

Barry Patterson treated us to an extract from Buddha of the Carboniferous which has no Buddhas in it, nor was there any specific reference to anything carboniferous, yet, like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you implicitly understand what it is all about, even though it's not about what it says it is.

Antony R Owen is a very fine contemporary war poet. But he is not dead, and he is not German. Mal Dewhirst rectified that by performing three of his own translations of the deceased German First World War Poet, August Stramm including,  Kriegsgräberfürsorge and Angriff. The combination of the onomatopeia of the language with sparse form was compelling.

Sukhat actually spells his name Sucat, an archaic form of Patrick, but we both agreed that my approximation was  superior. Rather disappointingly, unlike as in the past, he eschewed weighty writing pads which contained only one poem, for a more practical spiral ring binder.

Yet his material was in no part diminished, with Sign Long Removed, obscure and wry. It was no surprise to discover that he is an aficionado of Television and Tom Verlaine.
To close the evening Andy Biddulph visited dyslexia, Welsh mountains and a rather good Evanescence  , before Antony R Owen  finished with the  chilling Eichmann, the imagery of the hangman's noose tightening around his neck, and the dead man's stare, lingers. Night Blue Fruit returns on 4/10.

Gary Longden


Parole Parlate

Little Venice, Worcester

Basking in the warmth of a late summer's evening, Parole Parlate assembled to hear the usual assortment of fine poetic talent topped by an unusually strong headliner, A. F. Harrold, who I had not heard perform before.

His striking, large, bearded frame, gives him the aura of a Russian Leninist Revolutionary, and I half expected his set to include tales of the glorious efforts of the workers at the Tractor factory, and a breakdown of the grain harvest from the Ukraine. Interesting as that might have  been, he chose a different tack, which enthralled, and delighted the audience.

We chatted briefly beforehand, and an immediate problem surfaced. How do you address someone known by their initials?

Mr Harrold seemed a little formal. A or AF, a little casual. Fortunately he suggested that Ashley would do. From the minute he took the stage, a quixotic quirkiness unfolded for a memorable and intensely idiosyncratic act. Laughing, joking and ad libbing with the crowd, he romped through some children's poems before arriving at some lengthier adult material.

Like many accomplished artists his trick is to make the difficult seem simple, his  self-effacing comments flying in the face of some very fine work. Jennifer Jones  was an excellent children's piece, How it Happens a poignant homage to the death of a parent, Mortal Zodiac a highly amusing astrological tour.

Rarely have I heard a headliner get through so much material with such humour and so little sense of time. A star turn. One of the best Parole Parlate headline acts I have seen without question.

The turn-out for the night was as strong as ever, with the supportive and enthusiastic management now laying on a Poetry Special food and drink offer for early arrivals, offering even more reason for people to consider making a night of it and arrive early (if only to get a good seat!).


First up was Raven Brooks, a name which on first hearing sounds as if it should have been conjured up from the San Fernando Valley, but in fact belongs to a young local woman who made a big impact.

Opening and closing with villanelles, she progressed through a clever duologue between a woman and a waiter, Human Heart, and then to I Stand Accused, about generational faux-pas. Teasingly, she refused to elaborate on The River Man, with imagery of The Styx and other dark forces mysteriously swirling around. Confidently and strikingly presented, she displayed technical skill with warmth and wit, I look forwards to future performances.

Maggie Doyle is a conventional rhyming poet, and tonight she showed that you can make the form go a long way. The Party  was light knock-about stuff, whilst The Merry Widow  evolves, lengthens and delights with each new extended incarnation.

The familiar bits are welcome, the latest instalments always great fun, in an epic ode to twilight sexual misadventure! Yet it was The Bullies which really delivered tonight. A plaintive tale of childhood suicide in which Maggie used simple rhyming patterns as an uncomfortable, sinister, subversive, but effective tool.

In Birmingham, Rhymes is a similar Spoken Word event hosted by Lorna Meehan. It is always a pleasure to see Lorna getting a run at actually performing rather than carrying the added responsibility of carrying an evening as well.


Shoes saw her at her best as she invited the audience to metaphorically and figuratively join her on her poetic journey, Celebrity Appendage, allowed her to exercise her waspish sense of humour as her big television break descends into an appearance as a lesbian shop assistant on screen only, by dint of her elbow!

The recent riots have spawned a plethora of civil unrest poems, and the next two poets offered their contributions in very different styles. Spoz, with, Only the Dead Dreams of the Asbo Kid, delivered a heartfelt vox pop, filling a void that contemporary popular music seems unable to fulfil. He also succeeded in rhyming “glass on”, with “croissant “,  too! Antony R Owen, whose poetic milieu is in writing about conflict, took a more restrained approach with Slippers, which he dedicated to Tariq Jahan, the father of a young man murdered during the riots

 His key line was of eyes that “gawp at an Eton mess”. In the rest of his set he drew both from his current book The Dreaded Boy and other pieces covering the devastating effect of drought and the impact of war on women, Afghan villages and the American heartlands. Antony personifies the success that serious poets can enjoy as performers of their work. His easy economy of language and inspired imagery is carefully crafted and compelling.

Fergus McGonigal is a performance tour de force these days. Christmas is for Children is amongst his funniest satires. With the festive season still some four months off, this will no doubt (deservedly) get much more exposure as the weeks roll on. A ten accent poem showcased his inability to do accents, and his nature poem showcased his contempt for pastoral poetry.

His skill is in taking the everyday, and heading off into the netherworld of the surreal with it. This is a skill which Catherine Crosswell also possesses. The Dentists Said  becomes an hallucinogenic trip into the small print on medications including Anusol, Recipe for Success embraces television series, brewing and colonic irrigation, whilst the gist of  Executive Dinner will be familiar to anyone who has suffered the roulette wheel of place settings at formal dinners.


The disparate perspectives on our world which Fergus and Catherine offer are eclectic, rewarding, and always touched by humanity.

Parole Parlate prides itself on also providing a platform for prose reading, and tonight had three authors. This form is much more difficult to succeed in than poetry when read out loud. The standard required to make your mark is far higher. I firmly believe that all prose readers should study the art of Storytelling both to assimilate what ingredients make for successful performed prose, and to glean how it is best presented.

 Andrew Owens went for a carefully crafted episodic piece, Bootleg to Paris, about a drug smuggling trip which goes wrong. Concise, atmospheric, and with three twists, it engaged and was pretty much a case study in how to get it right. Alice Sewell bravely used the device of telling a tale about male debauchery at University voicing the male character herself.

This cleverly offered an instant and ongoing novelty, but also enabled her to explore the worst excesses of male behaviour in a way that may have bordered on the offensive if voiced by a man. A neat move, well observed, and executed. Tony Judge is an experienced and successful local author who enjoys writing wry satire under the, “Brief and Approximate Guide to” banner.

It is a formulaic and derivative series which succeeds because of its familiarity. His Brief and Approximate Guide to Worcestershire  was a home banker, and so it proved, although at 1000 words its impact may have been greater with some editing. Curiously he then proceeded to his Brief and Approximate Guide to Parenting which was so similar in style that it neutralised the former piece. The material was good, but here, less would have been far more effective.

Parole Parlate next meets at 7. 30pm on Thursday October 6th, which is National Poetry Day, whose theme of Games will no doubt be explored on the night. 01-09-11

Gary Longden


Word Wizards

Grove Hotel, Buxton 

This was my first  visit to Word Wizards and a post August bank holiday date seemed the perfect time to visit this Peak District event in a most picturesque setting.

 The Grove Hotel itself is some 240 years old, starting life as a Coffee House, before expanding as a coaching inn for Manchester travellers. Unusually, this is run as a monthly slam, with prize.

Although the mechanics can vary dependent upon numbers, the objective is to have rounds containing as many  as possible, thereby retaining performers for multiple readings, whilst maintaining a competitive element. The spectacular scenery to be enjoyed during any direction of approach to Buxton will always offer   a spur to the spirits of any poet as they prepare their evening's work.  

The room itself is first floor, and private, with the hotel's bar and food amenities  close by. Compere Rob Stevens, and his wife Lesley, are convivial hosts for a relaxed and friendly evening which tonight comprised some five rounds, with the cumulative scores of each round determining the winner. This had a pleasingly egalitarian effect, as it ensured that everything did not hang on the first round, affording poets more choice and variety in their selections.  

The poetry was diverse, entertaining, and thoughtful. Gary Carr is wisely persisting with I the Broken, a clever page poem in four parts which grows with each performance, whilst his DJ piece offers broad appeal for anyone conversant with the jealous paranoia of those whom man the decks.

From Lichfield Poets, Janet Jenkins offered a strong combination of work resulting in a third placed finish. The Tale of the Teeth, about some errant false gnashers always entertains, Set Me Free, was a poignant mother and daughter coming of age piece. Anyone who includes the tongue twister “sarcococca” in their performance has to be admired.  


Jack Regan is probably tired of references to his namesake on the Sweeney, but I shall try his patience further. His contributions were robust, tough and with a sprinkling of that trademark humour, never more so than with “Hey JC” a hugely enjoyable offering about the Creators failure to ensure that he was born a rock star. David Barrow entertained with some introspective work and the knockabout Rubadubdub, David Siddon reminded us of the Werewolves that lurk around Millersdale.  

Host Rob Stevens, who finished the evening with a second placed finish combined oiling the wheels of the evening, amusing all with his wit, with some excellent poetic contributions. Six O'Clock News was particularly strong examining  the  peculiar juxtaposition and relative importance placed on various news stories.

The “hurricane that barely was” in America playing against the mayhem is Lbya was a point well made. Yet he also takes in the surreal, I've killed the Cat and Stuck it in the Wind Chimes, the political “Scab” and the domestic implications of when a grown up child flies the nest.  

The generosity of the judges resulted in me scoring the highest points for an evening which was well organised and professionally presented complete with promotional banners, branded bookstand and on-table klaxons available for the audience to increase their demonstrations of enthusiasm for proceedings. Word Wizards runs monthly, on the last Tuesday, with a 7. 30pm start. 30-08-11.

Gary Longden


Bilston Voices

Metro Cafe, Bilston

Like other spoken word events which I have attended recently, Bilston Voices defied the holiday season by drawing a packed house, making this what hostess Emma  Purshouse declared a “blue chair” occasion, when emergency blue chairs had to be produced out of cupboards to cope with an expectant, burgeoning  crowd.

A local bill had attracted an audience from far and wide, the furthest of whom had travelled from the Italian alpine village of Merano. Even the staff pull up chairs to listen to proceedings here, such is the following this evening has built up.

Upon inspecting the advertised bill I had been expecting to see Martin Jones the Shropshire Dairy Farmer who writes poetry, monologues and stories about farms, cows and cow pats.

In fact, first up was Martin Jones, but another one, from Wolverhampton, who writes about lost love, unemployment, the shortcomings of Wednesfield High School and Stalingrad. Martin romped through his material which was raw, authentic and entertained. Memories of Wolverhampton had some strong lines and poignant observations. When he adds disciplined editing  to the enthusiasm of his delivery, he will have a good poem on his hands.

Stuart Haycox has impressive antecedents with his previous work on the Sunbeam factory in Wolverhampton. He did not touch on that tonight, but he did cover much ground, most very impressively.

Look Back in Wanting was a fond, but not overly sentimental piece,  about our preoccupation with the past, Black Girl  counterpointed the ebony beauty of an Ethiopian woman with the starvation which ravages that country, whilst Lady from a Hot Land examined the culture shock of those who immigrate to this country from balmy climates to be faced with our “grey steel skies of November”.


I Remember You was achingly touching to all of us who know, or who have known, a loved one smitten with cancer. Cafe Metro was a sure fire hit performed on home turf! An engaging and rewarding set which was enjoyed by all.

Roger Noon belongs to two local writing groups and quickly displayed his own versatility. From Paper to Silk and back to Wool, looked at an all too short marriage, in contrast to his own, now of some 41 years standing, before delivering an Ecclesiastical Trilogy which he dedicated to the influence of Simon Fletcher, and a highly amusing, multi voiced, Royal Wedding piece. Versatile, light, and effective, whether he is enjoying Jazz by the Levi French Trio, or gardening in autumn, Roger writes with a smile.

After the break, Marion Cockin opened with confidence and humour, reminding us that the insects of warm August will soon give way to the frosts of autumn. That sharp, but irreverent style was carried on both with the tale of a young girl who had gone to the seaside hoping to see the sea, whilst her mother had designs on a hotel waiter, and with her concerns about the irrational fear of her husband dying in inconvenient places!

It was with some surprise that the audience also became aware that her excellent poem on a Cabbage White Butterfly had been cruelly overlooked for a butterfly anthology for which it had been submitted. Marion is appearing during the day at the Staffordshire Arts Festival on 17th September and is worth looking out for.

Greg Stokes, sporting an Albert Camus T shirt, closed proceedings with a reading from his new book, American Toilet Tissue and Schrodingers Pussy in which Black Country Les and Sheila Parkes tackle two arsewipe American image rights attorneys in the Big Apple. Amusing, sharp and episodic, the visitors from Italy confessed that they couldn't understand a word of the dialect, the rest of us lapped it up!

Bilston Voices meets again on 22nd September. A one off spectacular is being held at the Imperial  Banqueting Suite in Bilston on the evening of Saturday 17th September, at which Jo Bell, the Anti-Poet and Heather Wastie, among others, will perform. 25-08-11

Gary Longden



The Western Public House,


A healthy crowd turned out in the middle of the holiday season for this event, which is held bi-monthly, within the convivial surrounds of the Western Public House.

Most Spoken Word evenings have their own distinctive characteristics and Shindig is no exception. The two halves of the show are promoted by two different entities, Crystal Clear Creators, represented by Jonathan Taylor who tonight had the second half, and Nine Arches Press, represented by Matt Nunn and Jane Commane, who took the first half.

A ground floor bar simply converts into a performance room. A combination of a microphone and a solid crowd ensures sympathetic surroundings for proceedings which attract an educated  and appreciative, but not elitist, audience.

Crystal Clear Creators is a not-for-profit arts organisation devoted to developing, producing, publishing and promoting new writing. It works with new, up-and-coming and established writers. It records, produces and broadcasts spoken-word material; it publishes anthologies and pamphlets of new writing. Nine Arches press is an independent poetry press that aims to publish the best contemporary voices in handsome new poetry and short story pamphlets and collections.

First up was Matt Merritt who has become something of a fixture on the midlands poetry circuit in recent months, unsurprisingly, his stagcraft is now finely honed.   Matt's debut collection, Troy Town, was published by Arrowhead in 2008, with a chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, by HappenStance coming out in 2005.


His poetry has appeared in magazines and anthologies in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia, Matt lives locally, and works as a journalist for Bird Watching magazine. His most recent collection,  Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is available from Nine Arches Press, but he ranged freely across the whole pantheon of his work in his reading.

One of the pleasures of hearing a poet several times is in becoming accustomed to the breadth of their work. Zugenruhe  was a fine piece on migration, with the underlying sense of anxiety and restlessness powerfully underscoring it. Coolidge intriguingly examined the eponymous US President whom the Reagan Administration had sought to favourably reinvent, whilst Summer Breeze was a wistful and pleasing homage to a friend who died young. On the evening it was 1984 which stood out, a powerful fusion of the social upheaval of the miner's strike and the bowling menace of the West Indies cricket team of the time.

Closing the first half was Deborah Tyler- Bennett, a lady with Nottinghamshire roots, but a national reputation. Her chapbook collection of three portraits in poems, Mytton… Dyer… Sweet Billy Gibson… is available  from Nine Arches Press, and dominated her reading. Quirky, historic, regional characters, they offered rich material from which to draw, Telling the Bees of Jimmy Dyer was particularly atmospheric.

Deborah works as a poet for many national galleries and museums, including workshops for The Science Museum, The National Gallery, The Collection, The Usher Gallery, and most recently being resident poet for Sussex Day at the Royal Pavilion Tearooms, Brighton. That sense of history and place pervaded her reading with Moonlit House from Revudeville (King's England, 2011), a ghost poem, oozing class.

This was the first time that I had seen Deborah perform and she exceeded her reputation. Confident, assured and instantly engaging, her poetry was as sparkling as her purple patent heels, and her commitment to the poetic cause was evident when she took time out with me to enthuse about her editorship of Coffee House magazine. She has also been translated into Romanian, although why remains a mystery to be resolved at our next meeting!

First up after the break was Alex  Plasatis, an exophonic writer undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at De Montfort University who  has also co-edited the third volume of Hearing Voices, the Crystal Clear Creators House magazine. The increase in migration, particularly within the EU, will undoubtedly increase this phenomena within English literature. In Germany they have characterised this as “Auslander” and “Migrantenliteratur”, and the phrases axial and postnational are sometimes used. But the term exophonic seeks to draw a distinction between the differing contexts of production of writing by non-native speakers and native speakers of hybrid identity calling attention to the politics of style in non-native speakers.


Now all this may seem a little high-brow but it is the context within which Greek National Alex performs. Trying to explain or categorise his performance is a challenge, but it was an absolute joy.

 Loosely a collection of bawdy erotic stories which would make Chaucer blush, it is introduced as being the story of a louche, lothario landlord who chances upon the opportunity to regale his young tenant with the tales of his sexual adventures. Neither conventional poem, nor straight story, it meanders, diverts, entertains and delights in equal measure – and brought the house down. If you have wondered about the libido of seventy nine year old grandmothers and the etiquette of wearing blue nighties in front of your girlfriend's parents, then check out Alex next time he is in town!

Roy Marshall closed the evening for Crystal Clear Creators. Describing himself as a  Leicestershire based poet,  dad, a son, a brother and a nurse, Roy enjoyed success in a Guardian competition two years ago and has never looked back.

 His laid back style took in BBC Children's programming of days gone by, Nirvana's farewell UK performance, the smoking ban, and his children. Light, accessible with an unerring eye for humanity, it was a thoughtful coda for the evening.

The undercard of open mic poets was uniformly high and almost entirely comprised serious subject matter. Mark Goodwin performed a nature poem detailing a country walk which was exquisite in its execution, Maria Taylor evoked the era of knife thrower's assistants marvelously in a triumph of the virtues of preparation and skilful editing, amongst many fine performances. Shindig next meets on 24th October, free entry. 22-08-11

Gary Longden 


Spoken Worlds

Old Cottage Tavern

Burton on Trent

This open-mic event is now established in its ability to draw attendance from far and wide. Under the skilful stewardship of MC Gary Carr, the standard is high, and the evening always moves on at a brisk pace. It also tends to be quite diverse through happenstance, tonight was no exception. A strong body of poets was on hand to present their wares, and it was material from books which dominated proceedings.

Ian Ward, from Lichfield Poets, has read several times before. This time he chose to present his first collection, Light and Darkness, (United Press) for its debut outing, which contains over three dozen poems. A social worker by profession Ian's work is eclectic and off beat. Fantasy horror, contemporary pop culture and love are all visited by his pen. Stolen Away  a piece on dementia, stood out.

Barry Patterson presented mainly from the second edition of his successful, Nature Mystic, a collection which reflects his interest in the relationship we have with our environment. Astronaut will resonate particularly with those old enough to remember the moon landings, whilst Advice to a Geordie Miner Lad in Pooley carries an authenticity which transcends the need for having had to have been there. A part of the permanent Polesworth Poetry Trail, Barry reflected that it was a contribution which had come easiest to him over and beyond others to which he had committed more time. Yet it is that immediacy and cohesion which makes the poem such a pleasure to hear, particularly when delivered with a Geordie accent.

Mal Dewhirst took the opportunity to introduce us to the work of some contemporary Irish poets, having just returned from a trip to the Emerald isle as a  guest of O'Bheal  in Cork City for a three day visit of readings as part of the Cork-Coventry Literature exchange.

The first was the Galway Poet Elaine Feeney. He  read from her collection published by Salmon, Where's Katy, the highlight of which was Urban Myths and the Galway Girl, which was constructed from the ephemeral observations of one of her co-workers in a Hairdresser's salon.

The second was Teri Murray whose work Mal sampled from Where the Dagda Dances (Revival Press). A playwright and Editor of the Revival Poetry Journal the book contains new work and selected favourites from previous collections, now out of print. Warm and reflective, her poetry was distinctly Irish fondly echoing the past.
In addition to the reliably strong core of open mic poets, we were also treated to two short stories, one a Peak District fable, The Nailer of Belper, the other, by Richard Young, a traditional Japanese Ghost story representing a departure from Richard's previous appearance in which he had focused on comic verse. Spoken Worlds meets again on 16th September at 7. 30pm, free entry. 19-08-11

Gary Longden


Poetry Unplugged

Covent Garden, London

So, the television is filled with images of rioting youth across the country. Gangs are raiding and looting shops. The Metropolitan Police have put three times as many officers on the street. Across London trouble is expected almost everywhere.

 And me?

Well, it's Tuesday night and my last chance to visit Poetry Unplugged so I head off to Covent Garden to sign up for the best open mic in London. The streets are not exactly empty but they are certainly much less busy than usual. When I suggest to Niall, the organiser, that poets are made of sterner stuff he counters that we are just more needy, just more desperate for peer approval. And he's probably right.

 Even so, it's a smaller audience than usual and there are only sixteen readers. On the positive side, at least I have the time and space to review the event properly, though of course it still needs to be brief and not everyone was introduced with a full name anyway.  

So first up we had Nick who did a poem so new that the ink was still wet that was simultaneously about the riots and the fire in the cigarette bin outside the cafe. There were a couple of other humorous ones and a rather grim, but very good, one about an abattoir from the cow's point of view.


 Janice, who has been on at every performance I've attended started brightly with a poem about a pop-up Karma Sutra (which she had on hand to illustrate the verse), and followed it with a serial killer suburban housewife. Both were clever and funny.

 Someone I hadn't seen before, Vanessa gave us a choice of two poems and went with the one that she'd described as a "fairy tale for grown-ups". She said later that she hadn't been happy with her choice but it was a fine recitation of a long and complex poem delivered in quick and confident style.

 Brian Baker was next with a group of poems, some of which I'd heard him do before. The short Memory of a Conversation with a Jewish Girlfriend was especially pithy and amusing and Bob Rainey, who followed him, a Poetry Unplugged first-timer did a trio of very good poems that included a personal ad for an S&M magazine.

 Paul Moore, making his second appearance, was also very good, but Just Because was a standout piece with each line making a contrast and the initial light-hearted tone gradually mutating into something much darker, a tone that was maintained by the next to the mic, Arthur Ray whose poems were a kind of anti-love song.

 Next up was regular Donal Dempsey in a shirt that was louder than the sirens occasionally heard outside. He rattled through a cracking set of very funny short verses in a style that had the audience howling with laughter.  


I opened the second half with a reprise of my Bilston Voices autobiographical set. People made the right noises in the right places and complimented me afterwards so it must have been OK. I, of course, am not best placed to make that judgement. I can judge Will Warren who came next - bravely announcing that he was opening with a poem about his favourite synthesizer. And that's what he gave us, a eulogy to a keyboard followed by a story of a strange chess game. His laid-back delivery perfectly complimented the pieces.

No one could accuse Stanley Neil of being "laid back". After a brief, but amusing pieced on the class system and a couple of haiku he shifted up a gear into a raging histrionic performance that saw him abandoning the mic and animatedly haranguing the audience. It was great stuff.  

Anita was more subdued. She delivered a long and downbeat poem about death, apparently inspired by a random remark from the host at last week's group. It was a good piece, though a little confusing in places and the next poet, Yvonne, to a degree, maintained the tone.

She wasn't, I confess, to my taste. There was nothing wrong with either of her two poems and her delivery, though a little nervous, was fine. It's just the religious subject matter that leaves me rather cold. No matter how well done religious poetry just doesn't interest me.


Peter Doyle lifted things with a poem about how much he hated seagulls and the variety of ways in which he had fantasised about killing them. His description of their calls as "the pub singers of the avian world" was a gem in itself. His other piece, The Trees, was more serious but just as good.

 The penultimate performer was Ray Blake who I enjoyed enough to buy his book. His opening piece about the Irish and the Scots was really very good but though the Irish in the audience may not have been so keen. His follow up, a piece about people who have half-hearted, wimpish tattoos, pleased everyone though.

 And so we come to the final performer, who billed himself as Namanagra. . . er. . Granma Ana. . . er Ananagram. It's always best to save the completely bonkers ones till last and Ananagram was about as completely bonkers as you can get without becoming a villain in a Batman movie. His single long poem was an apparently extemporised piece about all the poets he'd seen in the preceding couple of hours. Everybody got name-checked as he strode about the room like a poetry stormtrooper, climbed on the furniture and enthused everyone with his manic energy. For a poem that couldn't possibly have existed two hours ago it was a tour-de-force and a brilliant way to end my short run of visits to what has very quickly become my favourite way to spend a Tuesday night. It's even better than rioting.

 Poetry Unplugged takes place every Tuesday at the Poetry Place in Betterton Street in Covent Garden. It starts at 7:30 with a sign up between 6 and 7. 09-08-11 

Bob Hale


Pure and Good and Right Summer Slam

The Sozzled Sausage, Leamington Spa

This was the first time that Behind the Arras had visited Leamington Spa and the Summer Slam seemed the perfect opportunity to do so.  

The Sozzled Sausage itself has a modern trendy interior with the event being held in a conservatory area which made things accessible to the curious who might just have popped in for a quiet drink, as well as the poetic cognoscenti. George Hardwick officiates, and is the face and voice of proceedings, fellow organiser Kim assists unobtrusively. The pub is quiet on a Monday night resulting in the Poetry crowd dominating proceedings with no extraneous distractions.

Ingeniously, the evening encompassed two things, the slam and an open mic option, which worked well. Slams are popular, as is the format, but some want to present their work without a competitive element, and those people were wisely catered for too. A well balanced sound system ensured that the weak of voice were heard- whilst the strong of voice did not overpower.

The performers were diverse both in style, and content. John Shaw was urbane, and reflective with a very good piece on food rationing entitled Lovely Grub. Poetry can do many things, and one element which John demonstrated is its ability to preserve historic mores which will exist only on the page in the future. Lovely Grub was just that, authentic, nimble and accurate. Unsurprisingly he went through to the semi finals.

Other semi-finalists included organiser George Hardwick (independently assessed by a panel of impartial judges!) and Mister Morrison. I had never seen George perform before, but was aware of his reputation. He was hugely impressive. The Power of Stories was both a call to arms, and a celebration of the form, all wrapped into one.

A veritable invocation which inspired as it sought to extol the inspirational power of stories. His semi-final poem was no less potent, a stirring, moving, Inviting Love, in which he called on the healing powers of love to visit all, ” existence is the sound of love”, moving, and quite brilliant.

Mister Morrison is an unassuming, and very talented young man. He opened up with Angie, an innovative, intricate and sophisticated performance piece. It addresses the audience through the device of calling them Angie, thus enabling him to speak personally to each audience member (“for the sake of convenience can I call you all Angie?). It is amusing and smart, ensuring an immediate and ongoing connection throughout the poem which makes it pretty much the ideal performance/slam weapon.

His semi final piece was, In Aprils Eyes, a fond reflective piece based on his work with disadvantaged children, his winning finalist poem was Danny Boy, another intimate work, this time about his relationship with his brother. The latter two as subject matter would not have succeeded without the humanity and love which he injects into his writing, and an Everyman quality which characterises it. He was the worthy overall slam winner whom I was happy to acknowledge as such in the final, which I personally contested with him.

Suburbia is a topic beloved of poets and songwriters alike, and Ade Barton had a good crack at it. John Mason drew on Philip Larkin as inspiration for The Knight and his Lady, and Craig Lambert entertained with Is the Pope a Catholic.

Yet it was an open mic participant who particularly caught my ear, Sam Elvyheart. One of the joys of this type of event is how individuals appear out of nowhere, mumble something about not having done much of this sort of thing before, and then reveal themselves as burgeoning talent. Daddy Dear was an intensely personal reflection on her relationship with her father which was strong, fragile and engaging. I hope we hear more of Sam, the warm reception she won should inspire her.

A great evening and a credit to organisers George and Kim. The trip home took on a surreal air as text messages warning of riots in Birmingham and gathering crowds in Coventry and elsewhere were juxtaposed by BBC Radio Coventry running a programme on “Words I Hate” and playing James Brown's “I Feel Good” whilst our urban areas descended into anarchy. ”Pure and Good and Right” next meets on 12th September with Roy McFarlane as the guest poet. 08-08-11

Gary Longden 


Parole Parlate

Little Venice, Worcester

Holiday time it may be, and as many people headed off in search of the obligatory sun and sand, one could be forgiven in thinking that August's Parole Parlate evening of poetry, prose, stories and general word spinning at Little Venice would be less frequented than usual.

You would be wrong.

These monthly events have now established a supportive and faithful following, always with a smattering of newcomers, coupled with emerging “Little Venice Favourites”. These evenings are part of the on-going Worcestershire Literary Festival activities and festival director, Lisa Ventura, and her team constantly provide a diversity of talent both new and established, and tonight was no exception.

Heralding the 2012 festival (June15th-24th, 2012) one of tonight's guests was Worcestershire's first poet laureate, Theo Theobald, who performed his two winning laureate pieces. We were treated to the attributes and almost magical powers of the locally made Lea & Perrins sauce in his first piece before he invited us to join him at H&M where he attempted to exchange a dress, poetically speaking, in “I'm in love with the girl at H&M”.

The outcome was not as anticipated but fortunately Theo had a carrier bag for New Look instead. Always popular with the audience, Theo seems to be enjoying his laureateship.

Paul Jeffrey, a newcomer to Parole Parlate opened the evening with a short story from his newly published book Enigmatter, a book of stories and poems based in Worcester and featuring the statue of Elgar to whom he attributes awareness of human consciousness.

His thought provoking story “Under the Surface”, led us through a summer adventure for a brother and sister with childish fear at its centre, culminating in the harshness of life experienced first hand.


A welcome return visit from Mr. Morrison was greeted with enthusiasm. This young man delivered two pieces in his own particular style - “In April's Eyes”, a moving description of childhood innocence and a child in care contrasting sharply with life as an adult. He followed this with a “Danny Boy” dedicated to his brother, in which he takes guilt from his childhood into adulthood with a plea for forgiveness. The audience loved him.

Firm favourite, David Calcutt, told us that he had been working on a project writing poems with people with dementia. This experience, he said, had changed his way of thinking and the purpose of writing itself. He presented five pieces of work, untitled, illustrating the passing of life into that twilight zone where people sometimes know where they are but know that they should not be

His description of busy fingers constantly pulling at imaginary threads and rubbing out invisible marks jarred with many of us I'm sure. Written and delivered with great sensitivity, he demonstrated how the ordinary is somehow extraordinary in the world of dementia and the normal anything but normal.

“They are becoming their own memories” being a particularly haunting line.

With a flick of her lace-gloved hand, another regular, Suz Winspear, flicked through her book and we were transported to Ostend. Nine pieces beautifully illustrated ladies with dubious pasts who now gossiped together, still dressed to impress, and had obligatory little dogs. Her poem “Maxine” left the audience in no doubt as to how Maxine had acquired her fur coat! These tales of superannuated ladies of pleasure was most enjoyable.

John Lawrence, writer and poet, immediately had the audience eating out of his hand with his tale of “How Truth Can Hurt a Fish”. Having won us round, he let us into the secret of how he was useless at DIY but hadn't let on to his wife. Seeking expert advice in B&Q, he learnt impressive technical jargon, was called “mate” and left clutching the spline he needed to fix a tap.


He acknowledged that plumbing was not something he could handle and likewise plumbers couldn't rhyme eighteen words with orange so all was well in his world. “Super Hero” was new to me and if you want to know how a more mature person copes with becoming a super hero, I'm sure you get the chance to see John again at Little Venice.

Beth “knuckles” Edwards, runner-up junior Worcestershire Poet Laureate, received a rousing welcome as she apologised for her first poem which contained several four letter words. Her “angry” poem  dealt with gay suicides in America, while “Parasite” described the world of so-called celebrities and their accompanying entourage. Unusually, she read a poem by “Itch” lead singer of King Blues, entitled Five Bottles of Shampoo about the rights of women. Her penultimate piece,  “The Pleasures of Grammar”, described the poetry of love-making with punctuation! She completed her set with “4. 37. a. m. ” her experience of a hangover, finishing with the immortal lines from a poem by Fergus McGonigal “I swear I will never drink again”. A young lady who takes her role as runner-up laureate very seriously.

The more gentle pace of Al Barz, considerately sticking to his allotted time, brought us another DIY poem, this time about the dreaded whistling tradesman; he denied killing a ladybird in “Note to Granddaughter”, reminded some of us about Brenda Lee and Lonnie Donegan in “Transition of the Beat”; the art of making a soufflé followed in “One Egg is Not an oeuf”; “Shared Passage to Dawn” was a gentle love poem and he finished with “Contortion” where toes are placed in ears – enough said.


A night for personal revelations, Tom Feelgood told us that this was not his real name. He is a teacher and does not want to be recognised by his students! He started quietly with his poem “Elements” but then became a one man show as he performed a lengthy piece about Gavin who had a ITA attack during a Monday morning sales meeting.

Realising something was wrong but thinking it was the effects of a regular hangover, he tried to assimilate the immediate goings on. Enter a PR and ideas man (Mat) who seems to have it all. Meeting up later in a café, all is not what it seems. A dose of soul searching and re-branding for Mat and that final embolism for Gavin.

The Apples & Snakes guest, Deanna Rodgers, completed a fine evening of winning words. Bounding onto the stage with such enthusiasm she was an immediate hit with the audience who were captivated by her rap-style delivery (although personally, delivered just a little too fast for this ageing listener!) Pieces included “Nowadays” encouraging everyone to vote for causes they believe in whilst pointing out how we are getting more and more isolated – “people travel in portable worlds”. Listening, obsessive crushes, equality, heritage and living in this state and not off the state showed how she had become a slam winning poet. Her poem “143” (I love you) showed a more gently side and was equally well received. A great end to the evening.

All in all, another night which catered for a variety of tastes and ages. Parole Parlate next meets on Thursday 1st September. 04-08-11

Maggie Doyle 

Maggie Doyle was a finalist in this year's Worcestershire Poet  Laureate competition.


Night Blue Fruit

Taylor John's Vaults, Canal Basin, Coventry

If a prize existed for the most exotically named event and venue, this would win easily, and so it was with some expectation that I made my first visit.

The name comes from a line in James Joyce's  “Ulysses”; "The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit, "  the former phrase also the inspiration for a local poetry  publisher.

The vaults themselves are 19th century coal vaults which acted as stores for canal transportation and have now been converted into a cavernous, and atmospheric bar.

The ceilings are still vaulted, the original tiled floor remains, and the windowless interior is vented by an  exposed suspended stainless steel ventilation system which is quite brutal in appearance.

However a combination of church pew benches, wooden tables, sofas, and freestanding lampshades creates an altogether  softer,  louche, ambience which would not be out of place in a David Lynch film set.

Every event has its own character, and that is set by the host, who has two options. Those are to either act as an unobtrusive facilitator for the event, or to act as the hub around which the event turns. Host Barry Patterson is in the latter category.

A physically imposing man, loquacious, eloquent and a fine poet in his own right, Barry encouraged, enthused and ad libbed in equal measure. His “Astronaut” piece is a fond and affectionate paean to the Moon landings, and “Happy Birthday Howard” also caught my ear about the controversial H. P. Lovecraft, enfant terrible of the “weird fiction” genre.  


 The spirit of the evening was captured by a young woman, Carey, who had been before, and had this time brought some of her own work to read for the first time. Yet such was her apprehension, that she had asked a friend to go up to read on her behalf.

But as that friend made her way forwards, Carey had a change of heart as she witnessed the literary equivalent of a mother having her babies taken from her, and read herself instead. “Thinking”  and “On the Cathedral Steps” were described by Barry as “good old fashioned introspection”, were warmly received, and I am sure that Carey will be back.

The relief as she stepped down, saying “that wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be” was palpable,  an endearing reminder of how tough it is to stand up to read in front of others for the first time, but also evidence of what a supportive environment Night Blue Fruit is in which to do so.

The polar opposite to Carey was the vastly experienced Mal Dewhirst who had opened proceedings fresh from his exploits on the Great West Midlands Poetry Relay. “Polesworth Word Triathalon” was a clever Olympic style word challenge, “Dungeness” a beautifully observed landscape poem and his final poem about Liverpool and the Cavern Club and its music had a particular resonance in a cavernous club.

Sometimes an open mic can deliver the unexpected, and tonight it came in the form of Sukhat (phonetically correct but almost certainly not the way he spells it). Flamboyant, and a little left-field, Sukhat romped through a series of poems about vampires and “The Dream I Had” ( at 3. 40am), in a surreal, but hugely enjoyable performance.

His attention getter is brilliant, he arrives on stage with bundles of large writing pads, upon which there is just one poem per pad, and after delivery he smashes the pad down onto the floor which resounds to a very satisfying thump. Quite extraordinary- and a lot of fun.


Martin Green's vignette about poems written on the inside of a cigarette packet was good, “Citizen” Andy Biddulph was on top form with his political polemics, Josie conjured up a memorable erotic image  of a walnut smooth chest and Colin Dick, poet and painter was as inspirational as ever.

Closing the evening was Anthony R Owen, a man whom I have had the pleasure of listening to quite frequently in recent months, and he never ceases to impress. Not content with the success of his collection, “The Dreaded Boy” he debuted a  sparse, beautiful homage to the victims of Hiroshima in a series of self styled  “anti-haikus” which worked very well indeed.

He also offered what amounted to a meditation on Heinrich Heine, the 19th Century German Jewish poet whose work was burned in the Nazi dawn in 1933 at Berlin's Opernplatz, an event which had been anticipated in his play Almansor, written over a century earlier, in which he said: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen. " ("That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also. ")

Night Blue Fruit meets on the first Tuesday of the month at around 8. 30pm. 02-08-11

Gary Longden


Celebrate Wha

 Launch/ Freedom

Bring & Share, Library Theatre, Birmingham

The office of Birmingham Poet Laureate is honorary. What you do with it is pretty much up to you. Current office holder, Roy McFarlane has seized the opportunities that such a title affords and grown the position to new heights, not least with his Bring & Share Poetry evenings, with this the last while he is in office.

 Previous events have used Valentines Day, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day as their themes. This one was a double header, a promotional launch for “ Celebrate Wha'”, an anthology of contemporary Black Midlands Writers and a platform for poems on Freedom, a combination which worked splendidly.

We were fortunate to have the publisher of “Celebrate Wha'”, Andy Croft, of Smokestack Books in the audience for the occasion. A “smog monster” from Middlesbrough, Andy is a hugely distinguished author in his own right, with some 18 poetry books, four novels and forty two books for teenagers to his name, as well as a poetry column in “The Morning Star”.

He has performed his own poetry around the world.  Smokestack has a bold manifesto, it claims to hold open a space for what is left of the English radical poetic tradition in the twenty-first century. It champions poets who are unfashionable, left-field or working a long way from the metropolitan centres of cultural authority.

It is also committed to the common music of poetry; is interested in the World as well as in the Word; believes that poetry is a part of and not apart from society; argues that if poetry does not belong to everybody, it is not poetry. As authors read from “Celebrate Wha'” it was apparent how neat a fit material and publisher were.

My only frustration from the evening was that we heard only one poem from Andy himself, the brilliant “Crash, Bang, Wallop”, a parody of Jean-Marie Le Pen's bizarre bid to outlaw onomatopoeia. if ever you want evidence that the pen is mightier than the sword, listen to this.

A packed bill meant that poets were limited to a single contribution resulting in a night of rich diversity too dense for me to try to chronicle in any sort of detail. Sam Hunt told of how poetry had personally set her free, Gary Quinn of how it had set him free from alcohol, and many explored political freedom.


Of those, one stood out head and shoulders above the rest, “Mr President” from Chester Morrison, an attack on the record of Nelson Mandela. It encapsulated the zeitgeist of the theme of the evening, and Chester described the hostile reaction his poem had provoked from many quarters for his effrontery in questioning The Great Man. The poem was a profound, simple, powerful and lyrical tour-de –force.

Tellingly, afterwards, several audience members were moved to debate the successes, and failures of Mandela's regime, and what any political revolution can reasonably hope to achieve. All of which bore testament to the capacity of a poem to have a life far beyond the page.

Those authors present reading excerpts from “CelebrateWha” did a fine job. Kokumo's heavy patois elevated “Democracy is Dead”, Marcia Callum's roots poem “Memory Loss” was inspiring. Kokumo had amused us earlier on, Michelle Hubbard had us in fits of laughter with her “Jack and the Beanstalk” poem about how an inadvertently discarded marijuana seed had taken root in unexpected circumstances.

 And, as she had done at the Valentines Bring & Share evening, it was Sue Brown, making an all too rare appearance who shone once more. She delivers her words, motionless, using just her voice to emote, confident that it is all that is required, and she is right. “Birmingham” was an affectionate homage to our city, the ambiguity of “Pain” was wry, “I Am” was a defiant manifesto of self affirmation.

Roy expressed his hope to continue such events beyond when he relinquishes the Poet Laureate crown. I hope he does, for it brings together communities and offers a platform to share ideas. Rohit Ballal was able to give a rap influenced performance, Sarah Tamar was spotted by Roy last Thursday and performed this Monday, and it is that sort of alchemy and spontaneity which has made this series such a success.

Celebrate Wha” is available from: http://www. smokestack-books. co. uk/index. php


Gary Longden


Bilston Voices

Metro Cafe, Bilston

Held on (the somewhat hastily declared) National Cake Eating Day, it was fortuitous that Bilston Voices is held in a rather fine cafe, ensuring that the appropriate celebrations could be maximised. And it wasn't just the cake which was good.

Organiser Emma Purshouse once again drummed up a fine collection of poets to perform to the customary full house. Either the people of Bilston work their holidays around Bilston Voices, or they just don't have holidays. . . . . .

As a Bilston Voices regular, I have often reflected that the fine job that Emma does linking the evening denies her the opportunity to do what she does best, and that is perform her work in front of an audience.

This time the very late indisposition of a billed poet left her scrabbling around for a replacement. Who might be available who was credible, good looking, rehearsed, and able to perform at very short notice ? She wisely decided that no-one fitted that description more closely – than herself!

The result was a real treat as she waltzed through a selection of her favourite work to a delighted, and appreciative, crowd. Alice Cooper was name checked, a surreal imagined Shakespearean tirade of abuse was directed at Will himself, when his stash of Love Sonnets was discovered by Ann Hathaway in the style of the Jeremy Kyle show. A Great Classic Painters convention was lampooned, as was a country fair, the dangers of monkeys as gifts, and the perils of trying to fit Welsh place names in insurance company claims forms was also explored to uproarious effect.


Liza Minnelli had a signature song called “Liza with a Z not Lisa with an S”. Ann (with an E) Hastings cheekily stole that idea to introduce herself as she opened the evening with an assured and measured performance. On the cusp of retiring,  she was well rehearsed, elegiac, valedictory and reflective as she read poems from various key stages in her life.

 A University education as a mature student, flower shows, acting as a carer, and the suppression of dreams under the burden of the daily grind were all covered. The only flaw in her presentation is easily remedied, and that was that the breaks between poem and linking material were sometimes unclear, denying her the opportunity of more frequent well deserved applause.

One of the pleasures in seeing so many poetry events is watching as performers find their feet, and their voice. This is particularly true of Sarah Tamar, the self styled “ melting poet”. Her performance was as warm as the temperature, but her real trick is an easy endearing manner and tales about the world around her.

She can be touching when writing about her grandchildren, funny when talking about failed diets, and profound when talking about justice. My favourite of hers? “Eyeballing” about her confrontation with a robin!

Roy Macfarlane is coming to the end of his year now as Birmingham Poet Laureate, and has excelled in doing his office justice. A local lad from Parkfield Road, he made sure his “home credentials” had been accepted by the audience before taking us on a wonderful journey to Amsterdam and beyond.


Roy's work comes alive when he performs, and I suspect that he is never quite sure when “lift off” will happen. This time it was in a powerful piece about the biological father that he has never known,  laced with anger, smoldering rage, anguish and tragedy. It was an uncomfortable, but compelling section which drew a silence of respect, and admiration.

Dreams of Rivers” beautifully contrasted the bleak monotony of working in a foundry with daydreams of something better, the sentimental “I Wanna Walk with You” is simply one of the best contemporary love poems I have heard.

Inviting Heather Wastie to close an evening in the Black Country is as safe a bet as Wolves inviting Steve Bull as a guest at Molineux, you can't go wrong. And so it proved. Heather is as prolific a writer as ever, and whilst drawing upon her latest book “The Page Turners Dilemma” she also performed much fresh material.

She was afraid of the fish delivery man with, “I'm Afraid of the Fish Delivery Man” and the butcher's with “At Knifepoint in the Butchers”, if this continues, husband Geoff will have very few food options left!

Sparsely filled shop units and dodgy PA systems at festivals all bore testament to the travails of the wandering minstrel poet, but it was her established “Ping pong Neo-natal ICU” which stood out once again as her best work. Wry, but serious, with clever use of sound, it delights with its clever word play whilst conveying the life and death nature of the surroundings.

Bilston Voices plays again on Thursday 25th August, 7. 30pm, with Martin Jones, Stuart Haycox, Marion Cockin,  Roger Noons and Greg Stokes. 29-07-11.

Gary Longden


Poetry Bites

Kitchen Garden Cafe. Kings Heath

Some poetry events eschew meetings in the summer holidays on the basis that people will be away. Other more confident promoters reason that just as many people may become free to attend who otherwise may not have been available.

Organiser Jacqui Rowe is one of the latter, and her confidence in her audience was well rewarded on a balmy summer evening with another full house. Both headline poets write page based poetry and it is gratifying to see an audience as ready to be stimulated, as entertained.

The convivial ambience of the Kitchen Garden Cafe is well suited to poetry with the audience arriving up to an hour early to enjoy soft and alcoholic drinks, snacks and good company. Indeed the poetic camaraderie is a particular feature of this event which is as much a meeting of friends as it is of poetry aficionados. Yet it is by no means cliquey, an interest shared means that people can, and do, come alone, but leave having made new friends.

Anthony R Owen topped the first half bill promoting his latest collection, “The Dreaded Boy”. Anthony's work is stark and dark. The dreaded boy in the title refers to the boys who would deliver telegrams from the War Office during the First World War informing next of kin of the deaths of loved ones in battle.

War poetry has a noble tradition, and this is a worthy contribution to it, including work on Iraq and Afghanistan. It is seen from the perspective of civilians and women, as well as combatants. His work is not a polemic, nor is it verbose. The majority of pieces are concise and bare. The subject matter does the talking. He name checks Coventry military casualties as well as the work of Dr Karen Woo, killed whilst administering humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, to whom he dedicated “Diamonds”.


His art is in memorable imagery. The bloodied body of a freshly born baby is juxtaposed with the bloodied corpse of the fallen. “Clean” details the tender cleansing of a dead body in the Tigris by a grief stricken widow, of whom there are estimated to be 780, 000 in Iraq, a number roughly equal to the population of Birmingham.

Neither is an easy listen. The issue of the morality of blood spattered war games for computers is a difficult one to tackle without crass moralising, yet Anthony succeeds here too with “Realism” in which he rightly questions the lack of corporate responsibility in their promotion. Subjects like these, and those tackled in “Rwanda” are tough, but his ability to produce a memorable phrase such as in “Scent of the Sun”, about planes dog-fighting, in which he describes the skies as pallbearers, delights as well.

“The Dreaded Boy” is available from Pighog Press. ISBN 978-1-906309-17-6, £5 plus P&P.

David Calcutt topped the second half, and was introduced as a polymath poet, novelist, playwright and literary mentor. Tonight, David concentrated on the poetry, with rewarding results. In a mini personal poetic odyssey he started with “Stone”, written over 30 years ago and of uncertain origins from his first collection, “Outlaws”, before ending with a poignant selection from a current project he is working on with those living with dementia, together with John Killick, and host Jacqui Rowe. “And I Can Tell Them My Name” was particularly moving. One of ten new poems that this work has inspired.

He explained his poetic manifesto as wishing to explore the boundaries between the conscious and sub-conscious, and his exploration of Purgatory in “He is a Rider” was powerful indeed. Yet he is at his best in describing simple things with simplicity and insight. A recent workshop he had led had witnessed a herd of cattle on the move, and hitherto I had not seen the magic in cows that David had spotted. Equally his exploration of the mouth-bow as both musical instrument, and weapon of war, was innovative, and rewarding.

The open mic section boasts a formidably high standard with a palpable frisson of excitement surrounding the random draw for the order of performing amongst audience and performers alike. It is a veritable poetic smorgasbord of samples from poets, many of whom might merit a headline spot in their own right. Two contrasting, yet successful, performances caught my ear.

One of my favourite scenes from Quentin Tarrantino's film, “Pulp Fiction”, is when Uma Thurman is revived by an adrenaline shot to the heart. Fergus McGonigal has a similar effect on an audience with his high energy / high octane performance. Punk band The Ramones used to enjoy starting their tours with a set that started out at 45 minutes long, but which they aimed to consistently reduce simply by performing the same material faster and faster.


And so it is with Fergus and his  fantastic performance piece “Conversation”, which he has timed at 4. 3 words a second, but which tonight may have broken that barrier. Exuding an ebullient demeanour, no doubt spurred by a fashion choice in shorts normally only favoured by Prep schoolboys and Gordon of Khartoum, Fergus rattled through his new crowd pleaser to the delight of all.

Broadcaster and Poet Charlie Jordan also chose words for her spot, with her evergreen “Words”. A beguiling, cerebral piece, Charlie combines the passion of a pastor, the wisdom of an university Don, and the incisive linguistic technique of a surgeon as she teases, plays and teaches, but never preaches. Fergus blinded with his dazzling verbal assault, Charlie hypnotises with the strobe like rhythm of her language and delivery. The contrasting merits of two thematically similar, but radically different presentations, is what makes an evening like this so interesting.

Michelle Crosbie was not new to me, (Behind the Arras regulars will know that I have eulogised about her fantastic performance of “O Dark Pilot Whales” at Parole Parlate), but she was new to Poetry Bites. Once again she excelled. “Apple Love Magic” was endearing, “The Fireworks of Love” a triumph of simplicity, one of those poems which makes you wish that you had written it, until you realise that you could not have done it so well.

Numerous regulars also did themselves proud. Maggie Doyle knows how to write a good performance piece, and “The Chelsea Flower Show”, was very good indeed, ”The Merry Widow” as funny as ever. Jan Watts was elegiac with “Bathroom at 38 Berkeley Rd” and naughty with “Meat and two veg Kim”, whilst Sam Hunt treated us to a very powerful “ Daddy Says”, an excerpt from her forthcoming Artsfest appearance.  

Two single performances also shone. Laura Yates recited a beautiful poem about caring for elderly relations, and newcomer Liz Berry, from London, performed a fantastic piece, “The Fishwife”, from which two lines stood out, “Bare arms swayed like a forest of kelp. . . . cut from her bridal dress like from a fisherman's net”.

Poetry Bites plays again on Tuesday 27th September, details available on the Kitchen Garden Cafe website: http://www. kitchengardencafe. co. uk/events. php?pid=main 26-07-11

Gary Longden 

David Calcutt's work can be bought via his website: http://www. davidcalcutt. pwp. blueyonder. co. uk/

And, as a bonus, another view

'Cos poet Maggie Doyle was there too

So here's what she thought. . . just for you

Anthony Owen: concise and powerful without making the audience uncomfortable. His poems, from his book "The Dreaded Boy", tore at the ravages of war without homing in on the atrocities. A poet certainly worth catching if you get the chance.

Past Birmingham Poet Laureate, Charlie Jordan, teased and tantalised with her words flowing effortlessly over her captivated listeners. The elegance and serenity of this lady make her unfortunately rare appearances, an absolute pleasure.

Fergus McGonigal: this young man is emerging, no I correct myself, taking over, as this season's “must have poet”. He is everywhere! With the voice and passion of a young Brian Blessed, a hangover that Oliver Reed would be proud to recognize, and ta wry sense of humour which always makes him a hit with any audience, Worcestershire's runner-up Poet Laureate is certainly taking his unofficial role very seriously.

Michelle Crosbie: second outing for this explosive young lady who managed single-handedly to put on a firework display before gently easing herself into the plight of whales in Scotland. Michelle, along with myself and others from the Worcestershire region, are slowing but surely infiltrating Birmingham.

Gary Longden was, as ever, topical with his Rebekah Wade poem and instantly had the audience's attention. Always value for money, our roaming reporter never fails to deliver the goods.

The enigmatic David Calcutt closed the evening with a poem he had written as a teenager and was still trying to remember why, and also a trilogy of poems he had written following his involvement in a project dealing with dementia sufferers. These poems deftly and sympathetically dealt with this horrendous condition, while allowing the audience a glimpse inside some of the work which is being done by writers on the project.

Maggie Doyle


The Great West Midlands Poetry Relay

Saturday saw me take part in the maddest thing Writing West Midlands have ever done - their words not mine - The Great West Midlands Poetry Relay, which saw 10 poets write 10 poems about 10 places which were then released to be carried by 10 racing pigeons.

When explaining it at the various readings that I attended last week, everyone agreed it was mad, but thought it got surreal when the pigeons were mentioned.

My day started at Polesworth where I had written a poem, which incorporated the themes of alternative Olympic events in context of the place. This being a Cultural Olympic event in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics which will start this weekend in twelve months time.

My poem the Polesworth Word Triathlon – used the theme of words coming to Polesworth, with the two poets who preceded me. These words were compared with words that had raced to Polesworth before, such as the words of Thomas Cromwell, which saw the dissolution of the Abbey.

The new words however were brought here to compete and were seen to swim in the river Anker and then complete an obstacle course on the Poetry Trail and the events that were going on in Abbey Green Park for the Love Parks day, the final event was flying off into the airways – through Touch FM who broadcast the Polesworth leg of the relay and also thinking about the pigeons who were to carry the poems across the skies later in the day.

I had tried to write a comic poem but it just did not work and so I stuck with what I know and used my normal style creating a Free Verse Sonnet (homage to Michael Drayton), but in terms of a sonnet it had 14 lines and a turn part way through, there were no rhymes, couplets or metre – purists may argue therefore that it is not a sonnet.

Dressed in tracksuit trousers, trainers and a rugby shirt, the style of the true athlete – I arrived early, to ensure that the team at Touch FM were OK with what was going on and to sort out how we would do the readings across the Abbey Green Park site, where stall holders were setting up for the day and also live on the radio.

This sorted, I then went and waited for the bus to arrive with the team from Writing West Midlands, along with the recording team of Peter and Laura from Monty Funk and the first two poets on the relay – Emma Purshouse who had started at Stoke on Trent Railway station at 8:00 am and Philip Monks who was collected at Burton on Trent Library.

At just after 10:15 the bus arrived, I was given my tee-shirt and number, Poet 3 and my race was on.

After a brief interview with Jonathan Davidson on Touch FM, Emma launched into her poem, which was inspired by the Olympic event, The 10 Metre Platform Dive, which she skilfully turned into an event for Network Rail as passengers competed to dive on to trains from the platform.


The event being won by Derrick Johnson in his dry cleaned suit, where he not only got GOLD but Stoke also beat Crewe. Emma also picked up the rhythm of a train, reminiscent of Auden's poem Night Mail.

This was followed by Philip Monk's poem of rolling home from the pub, an Olympic event at which many of us would excel. Comparing the rolling of the Beer Dray wagons with that of the drinker finding the longest way home. Philip used the word jocund in his poem, an interesting word that is rarely used in modern parlance.

And then it was me, live on the radio, live across the the park – I read the Polesworth Word Triathlon for the first time.

No time for bows or applause - it was on to the bus to the next stop at Hatton Country world, where we were to meet another Polesworth Poets Trail Poet and former Warwickshire Poet Laureate, Helen Yendall. The journey was bumpy as we caught the speed bumps on the road to Dorden, which was whilst I was interviewed on my life in Poetry, which was little off putting and I found myself rushing to say what I want to say between the bumps.

Despite a slight detour we arrived at the Hatton Toffee shop to find we had been beaten by the clown performing in the Children's tent who had taken our audience, alas it is the case that slapstick comedy will always attract the audience away from poetry.

Following the reading of Emma, Philip and my poems, Helen picked up the baton with a poem for Hatton – with a series on new heptathlon events, including licking ice cream, shopping and making and throwing mud pies.

Then back into the bus to head for Worcester. The journey for me so far had mainly been motorways and the trip to Worcester continued this way, back up the M40 onto the M42 and then picking up the M5. The road rolling underneath our wheels, the miles rushed along.

At Worcester we met with Rohit Ballal and performed our first of two indoor performances at the Café Bliss, a venue that sees musical performance but at this time of day was sedate with a few customers including Lisa Ventura, the driving force behind the Worcester Literature Festival, who is was great to meet for the first time, despite us communicating through Facebook many times.

Rohit's poem followed the four previous poems, as he wrote about a Stain Glass making Olympic event picking up on Worcester Cathedral's need for a new east window.


We had a chance to rest a while here and to grab a much needed drink before heading onto the bus to head for the car park at the British Camp in the Malvern Hills. Motorways were left behind for the roads that crossed the battlefield of Worcester, from which Charles II fled to hide in an oak tree, on into Malvern town itself, with is array of shops and Georgian houses and its famous gas lamps and then to the car park at the base of the Herefordshire Beacon.

Here we met Adrian Johnson, who had travelled by train having encountered a Jamaican street festival, four zombies and had walked three miles, overcoming his bovine fears in the process.

Adrian's poem which followed the first five, was entitled Pump and Circumstance, and reflected on Bicycles and Elgar and saw the introduction of poets bobbing in the last night of the proms tradition, as Adrian read his poem wearing a cycle helmet and gloves, whilst waving a bicycle pump at the audience that had gathered around the snack cabin. Always a good tip when doing an impromptu poetry reading – find a queue and read to them.

The bus then meandered through the sleepy sunshine lanes into Herefordshire to the sleepy town of Bromyard, which traces its history back to Norman times and is now a quiet place where not a lot happens and it seems when it does not many people stir themselves to watch; even though the poets wandered around the town trying to entice people.

Here we met with Deborah Alma, whose poem reflected the sleepiness of the town with an Olympic event that involved mainly resting, she stood in a sack, like she was about to enter a sack race, but then revealed that the only hops that they did in Bromyard went into sacks. We did manage to rustle up a small audience of locals, including several children on bikes and a bronze sculpture of a sheep whose name appeared to be Ann Jackson.

We left Bromyard, trying not to make too much noise as we went and headed for Highley in Shropshire, a stop on the Severn Valley Railway. It was here at the leisure centre that we met Kurly McGeachie, whose rapping performance of his poem for Highley featuring coal mining and the Severn Valley Railway, on which he made several puns about freight lifting, encarriagment, training and coaching. – His line about bringing gold back from the Olympics like they did in Britain in Bloom in 2006 was wonderful and made me smile every time I heard it in the subsequent readings.

It was from here that the pigeons were released to give them enough time to get back to the loft in Birmingham before sunset, as they would find an alternative roost after dark and this would upset the idea of the poem's order being decided by the pigeons.

I have never seen racing pigeons being released before. Ten of them, each carrying a copy of one of the poems. They stepped out of the boxes and took to the air, they circled like a small cloud, following each other, one minute you thought they had gone, then they were overhead again, eventually finding their bearings and heading off towards Birmingham. It was estimated that it would take them 30 minutes to get back to the loft and so we hoped to know which had arrived first by the end of the day.

 I have since learnt that they did arrive back with the winner being the pigeon carrying Helen Yendall's poem, my pigeon finished sixth.

Tiredness and fatigue was now getting to those of use who had an early start and so I was happy to listen as Adrian played his harmonica, Kurly fixed the megaphone and to a discussion on which celebrities' people had met, names included Brian Mckeenan and Jack Dee. It was like being around a moving campfire at the end of a day of driving poems across country to the rhyme ranch.


The drive to the Odeon at Telford was fairly easy from Highley, up to Bridgenorth and then a short hop from there. Here we met the ninth poet Dave Reeves of Radio Wildfire fame, whose poem about long haul queuing was read to the queue for tickets at the Odeon Cinema, Dave came with an array of props all necessary for the competitor in any long haul queuing event, deckchair, snorkel, walking boots, torch, flask, sandwiches and a bin bag.

It was here that Rohit overheard a conversation between a Father and Daughter, who on observing a group of poets wandering into the cinema, had asked what was going on, to which he replied “I don't know darling, but I am sure there must be some explanation”.

The queue bemused by the happening, soon returned their thoughts to Harry Potter and popcorn as we headed for the bus for one final time, to the Pie and Ale house in Stafford where our final poet, Roz Goddard was waiting along with our final audience.

We arrived just about on time, but by then time was all but forgotten, when we read it was about 8:00pm and it was noted that Emma, who had been on the full trip was reading her Platform poem for the tenth and final time, some 12 hours after it was originally unveiled to the staff and commuters on Stoke Railway station.

Roz's poem was about pie snorkelling as a dressage and Greco-Roman wrestling event and finished the day off wonderfully.

The final photo of the group of ten showed Roz with a pristine number on her shirt and Emma with a crumpled just about hanging in there number on hers, the rest of us were somewhere in between, the state of the numbers pinned to our shirts may have reflected our tiredness but not the sense of achievement, the team spirit, the camaraderie of new friendships and most of all the taking part.

The weather held, the bus didn't break down, the company was wonderful and the pies were good too.

It was a fantastically mad day, and all credit goes to the team at Writing West Midlands, Jonathan Davidson, Sara Beadle, Lauren Davies and the rest of the team for their organisation and making the journey easy for those of us taking part.

I would also like to thank Lori Harvey and the team at North Warwickshire Borough Council for allowing us to interrupt the preparations for the Love Parks Day at Polesworth to support the Great West Midlands Poetry Relay. 23-07-11

Mal Dewhirst

Reproduced with permission and thanks from http://pollysworda. wordpress. com/

More information and photos can be seen on:
http://www. birminghambookfestival. org/the-results-of-the-poetry-relay-are-in-1486/


Spoken Worlds

Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent 

BURTON is not an obvious location for a spoken word event, the natural home for which tends to be more urban areas.

But perhaps that is its secret? It draws performers from far and wide acting as a melting pot for a diverse range of poets and subjects all mysteriously mixing to produce an event which is unique, with this session stretching to three eclectic hours.

It works, and is a testimony to the skills and hard work of organiser Gary Carr.

We live in uncertain times, and no event is complete without its political conscience. Andy Biddulph was happy to oblige with his trademark anti- capitalist offerings and more personal observations.

For no particular reason, the Lichfield Poets turned up in force for this evening, with no less than six of their number showing up, three of whom were making their Spoken Worlds debuts, the first was Stephanie Knipe.

Steph intrigued, then delighted the audience with a diverse set incorporating wheelie bins, bovine diseases, wine tasting, horses that don't complete their races and, most memorably, phobias about ducks. Jan Arnold took a different tack, performing short, incisive pieces with a touch of the risqué, “The Little Black Dress”, Sauce” and “Two Umbrellas”, the latter of which is one of the best double entendre poems I have heard in a very long time.

 “Kaleidoscope” was perhaps her most interesting piece. It was introduced as a poem which had no meaning, but was really simply themed around the letter K, something that the audience subliminally heard, but not introduced. Third debutante was Brian Asbury whose seasoned stage background ensured a strong set, the highlight of which was, “The Lunar Society”.

The regular performers were equally on form, Janet Jenkins spoke movingly on domestic violence, touchingly about her “Wish List”, and came up with a cracking image of empty coat hangers as testament to a lost love. Ian Ward picked up the male/female communication theme with “Big Trouble”, whilst the irrepressible Fergus McGonigal from Worcester unleashed the quick-fire lyrically dense and extended “Conversation” in a typically humorous and sharply observed piece.


Fresh from his success as poet in residence at Nuneaton's Poetry Day, Mal Dewhirst reprised all the poems which had made the day such a success, from his early morning coffee, through his search for the River Anker, culminating in his collaborative poem from which he built around words submitted to him from around the world. The following day he was to compete in a West Midlands Poetic Relay across the Midlands.

The event is part of a series of events organised in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics as part of the Cultural Olympiad, so this performance amounted to a “training run” of sorts, although hopefully the audience was more discerning than the pigeons who will be selecting the order of performance for the Relay Event! 

Margaret Torr has a fine body of work behind her on pastoral themes and relationships, tonight she impressively broadened that with ”Human Kind” a refugee's tale of savagery and humanity which was both harrowing and uplifting.

It is always a delight for events such as these to provide a platform for the serious as well as the light hearted. I always enjoy Tony Keeton's work which tends to veer joyously from the philosophical, to the whimsical. “Question” came in the former category, and the quite brilliant “Faux” from the latter.  

Gary Carr combined smooth running of the evening with his own offerings, some of which were from his recent appearance at the Buxton Slam. And it was from Buxton that Rob Stevens had travelled to deliver poetry to his usual high standard and perform a very good song about grown up children leaving home, the guitar accompaniment offering some welcome aural light and shade to a very enjoyable evening.

“Spoken Worlds” next plays on Friday 19th August at 7. 30pm. An occasional open mic event of light verse is also to be held at the same venue on the evening of Friday 12th August.


Gary Longden



Station Pub, Kings Heath 

Following an itinerant period, “Rhymes”, Birmingham's longest established poetic event, has now settled on the Station as a regular venue and the traditional values which had built its original success are now much in evidence.

Three out of the four featured poets were local, the headliner was from Cambridge. The result was a good turn- out, a combination of the familiar and the new, and a satisfying evening.

First up was local student, and rising star Jodi-Ann Blickley, fresh from her recent triumph at Glastonbury. Jodi- Ann exudes a beguiling fragile, frail innocence, underpinned by a mesmerising lyricism delivered at a ferocious speed.

She writes of love, and love lost, counterpointing her youthful beauty with self –effacing uncertainty. Her tribute to her mother was heartfelt, but her most satisfying poem was a clever reinterpretation of a theme explored in Adele's “Someone Like You” in which she imagines meeting a lover twenty years hence.

A line in which she spoke of counting her lover's eyelashes was brilliantly, and poignantly, observed. I have followed Jodi-Ann's performance career for some eighteen months now and she goes from strength to strength.

She is now veering into rhyming storytelling territory, which is itself no bad thing. Although I would say that her sparkling writing is sometimes submerged by the speed and pace of her delivery, sometimes a slower pace, with more pauses for the audience to savour the words, would create even greater impact.

Janet Smith was making her farewell performance before taking a holiday. I suspect that she has never paid an excess baggage penalty in her life, such is the economy of her writing, and her stripped down descriptive skills.

She is the only person whom I have ever heard agonise over the word “short” –because it is not exact enough! We started off with an examination of cities with, “Lucifer”, before heading to Scotland with, “Running”, and then taking in, “Pacific”, in an uncharacteristically longer poem.

The longer than normal tine slot suited her well, offering a context in which favourites like, “Bear”, and, “A Cry”, had even greater impact. Her poetry is always so welcome because against competition from poets offering more ephemeral topics and transient themes, she demonstrates that high quality writing always has a place on the performance circuit.


Before the headliner Alan Wales treated the audience to a clever extended piece called “Under Deadwood” a witty and entertaining pastiche of “Under Milk Wood”. He combines the arch campness of Frankie Howard and Kenneth Williams, the rotten urban underbelly of the film “Twin Town” and the gentler observational comedy of Max Boyce in the manner of Mrs Williams, leaning over her garden fence while putting the washing out to gossip with her neighbour.

All of which set the stage for Fifi Fanshawe, who had travelled from Cambridge to perform. A headline act needs to be able to command the stage, and Fifi did just that. Her opening, “ I am Woman”, was a defiant tale of female snoring, farting and general bad habits which gloriously set the tone for the rest of her irreverent, and highly entertaining, set.

Janis Ian's, tender, heartbreaking paean to teenage female angst, “At 17”, has long invited a pastiche, and Fifi did just that with, “ When I was Nine”. Having recently attended a school reunion I can vouch for the fact her poem of the same title was awkwardly accurate, but my favourite of the night was “Wardrobe”. Any man who has ever lived with a woman will have recognised their unerring ability to scan racks and drawers of clothes before pronouncing that she “has nothing to wear”.

Men smiled, women winced! Poetry when performed has to be for the audience, not the performer, and Fifi knows this with a well crafted stage persona part Victoria Wood, part Jenny Eclair part Joyce Grenfell. This was her first visit to Birmingham, I hope it will not be her last. Her website, containing information on how to buy her eponymous first CD is: http://sites. google. com/site/fififanshawe/

Lorna Meehan did her usual easy thing as MC whilst also performing the new, ” How to Swallow a Universe”, and, “All Stories are About Love”, – probably the best poem she has ever written. “Rhymes” next meets on Tuesday 20th September with David Calcutt headlining. 20-07-11

Gary Longden

Buxton Festival Fringe Poetry Slam

Held at the Grove Hotel, The Word Wizards Poetry Slam might normally be one of the smallest and politest in the country, but every July numbers are swollen by Buxton Festival goers for the Fringe Slam, and with a crowd of around 30 this is a reasonably sized festival fringe event.  

After the preliminaries – rules, advice for judges, etc. – organiser Rob Stevens kicked the 2011 Buxton Fringe Slam off with “Performance Piece”, a humorous poetic introduction to slammers on how to get the best from the PA, the timekeeper and the judges. There were 8 competitors all had the opportunity to read in the first 4 rounds, followed by 2 finalist rounds where the top 3 read.  

Taking the poets in the order they were drawn in the first round:  

Jack Reagan was the first drawn out of the hat in each of the first two rounds, kicking off with “Not in my name” an uncharacteristically serious political piece, following this in round 2 with an excellent darkly comic protest poem against almost everything. In round 3 he gave us two shorter poems; one of these

“The mouse” is a brilliant political satire, which deserves a wider airing. His final poem was probably the best piece of the night. Based on an assault with Roget's Thesaurus, Jack took the opportunity to use lists of synonyms to brilliant effect and had the audience laughing and cheering throughout. This was also the only time in the evening when timekeeper and scorer Lesley Stevens had to buzz a warning.  

I started with two fun pieces, the first “Gone Today” about a sharp haircut, the second an extended pun poem “The word was PORT”, and then two short poems, “Octopus” and “Warning 2010”, made up round 3. The second of these is a dark re-examination of Jenny Joseph's “Warning”. The final piece “Airports” was a quietly sinister look at departure and arrivals lounges.  

David Siddon has a varied range, he took the opportunity to show it off with a comic “Satanists' Circular” in round one, probably the highlight of the round. Round 2 was “The Window”, an introspective poem about old age; round 3 was a Derbyshire dialect piece about the life and families of lead miners and he rounded off in 4 with a rhyming tale based around the legend of the Millers Dale werewolf.  


Linda Goulden started her night with a piece about genetics, which was brilliantly delivered and ended very strongly using the four letters used to denote the bases in genes; she followed this with a piece of summer observation on a cat tormenting a bird. Her third piece was a gently comedic poem about the most recent royal wedding called “Last Mayday” and finally the intense “Two”, about a stifling love/hate relationship.  

Marylin Matthieson began her challenge strongly too, with the whimsical “Trouble with my diddly-dees”, and continued well in the second round with “A Good Book”; “Moving” was a clever piece about all the things we take for granted. Marylin closed with “Rustling Trees”, an observational piece about the power and beauty of storms.  

The host, Rob Stevens, followed. His work is particularly well suited to the slam form and the first piece “Bloody Julie” was a comic look at how teenage mates become separated when girls come on the scene. In the second round another strong poem, “Young Bucks”, was about lads looking for a fight, and the tragic consequences; this was followed by a sad tale of war from the point of view of the parents, “Class War”; Rob finished with “Set me Free”, a comic and – Rob says – personal piece about having an expressive face.  

The penultimate poet, David Barrow, deals with the comic and tragic. True to form poems about cancer, childhood abuse, old age and visions of angels were paired with lighter pieces in each round. “Chimney Pots” produced “Aahs” from the audience; “A Surgeon's Life” had a surprise ending, as did arguably his strongest piece of the night, “Goldfish”, which was laugh-out-loud funny.  

Deidre Costello, the final competitor in the first round, is not a regular performer, but her first piece “Going to the Slam” was witty and well read. The quality was maintained in round 2 with two poems about transport: “The Shoplifter” – a comic observational piece – and “The Terrace” which will make travelling by bus more of an adventure for all who heard it. In round 3 Deidre gave us the story of what happened next in the amusing “Sleeping Beauty”, Finally she read an untitled piece, a reminiscence on what might have been (but wasn't) with an old friend.  


The finalists were Jack Reagan, Rob Stevens and Linda Goulden. Each had two more attempts to please the judges.  

Rob was on form with “England's Green” and “Germanica”, both read with his usual flair, but seeming not to catch the audience mood fully. Linda read a piece about convalescence in hospital and “The Sluggard Waker”, a first person historical poem, her strongest of the night by far; but Jack excelled with brilliantly observed and performed poetry.

The first was a non-rhyming, rhyming piece (that isn't a typo!) about the difficulty he has trying not to rhyme; then he came back with the short “A Plea for Rhyme”, and filled his time with the sharply observed “Side Effects”, on the warnings given with medicines (“side effects may include death” was a genuine one used in his introduction) 

At the end of the evening Jack deservedly lifted the “winner's mug”. This is the North after all, cups might be looked on as just a bit sissy. Word Wizard Poetry Slams are held at the Grove Hotel in Buxton on the last Tuesday of every month, starting at 7:30 pm.

Contact Rob Stevens at poetryslamuk@aol. com for further details. 19-07-11

Gary Carr

Guest writer Gary Carr is the organiser of “Spoken Worlds”, a monthly spoken word event held at the Old Cottage Tavern in Burton on Trent, details of which can be found on its Facebook page.


Fizz 8

Polesworth Refectory Polesworth

 Organiser Mal Dewhirst has a sure touch in the guest poets he invites to Polesworth, and this months Fizz was no exception.

Matt Merritt was the headline attraction whose debut collection, Troy Town, was published by Arrowhead in 2008, with a chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, by HappenStance coming out in 2005.

His poetry has appeared in magazines and anthologies in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia, Matt lives locally, and works as a journalist for Bird Watching magazine. His most recent collection, from which he read extensively, “Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica”, is available from Nine Arches Press.

I have seen Matt perform before at Shindig in Leicester, but his large body of work meant that much of what I heard I was listening to for the first time. ”Dreams From the Anchor Church” was particularly strong, taking us back to Anglo- Saxon times in which he “struck out with my face to the future/to find myself walking through the past”.

His affection for history also manifested itself in “Drinking With Godberd” as he visited the Robin Hood legend.  Matt's connection with natural themes, whether it was the Chirimoya fruit of South America, or the Swifts of Leicestershire, engaged and delighted in equal measure. Those wishing to explore his work further should visit his blog site at: http://polyolbion. blogspot. com/


Mal himself revisited his recent successes at the Nuneaton Poetry Day with his collaborative poem “ In a Single Moment”, and “Nuneaton”, in which he traced the subterranean flow of the River Anker. He also trailed news of his upcoming project this Saturday 23rd July which will see ten poets travelling around the Midlands writing poetry in a relay race with one poet passing the baton to the next poet who will add the next part of the poem.

The relay starts in Stoke on Trent and then on to Burton On Trent, The next stop is Polesworth where Mal will take the baton before passing it on at Hatton Country world, following with Worcester/Droitwich, Malvern Hills, Bromyard, Highley, Telford and finishing in Stafford. The Poets will travel on a minibus being collected as they take the baton, The poem will be read at each of the locations as it grows on it journey around the Midlands.

The ten parts of the poem will be attached to ten pigeons from the Birmingham Pigeon Project and released in Stafford, back to the loft in Birmingham, the final order of the poem being decided by the order in which the pigeons arrive back at the loft. The event itself is part of a series of events organized in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

As always the supporting cast of open –micers excelled, none more so than Barry Patterson whose lyrical tribute to the Apollo moon landing was a joy. Gina Coates observations on Body Image were sharp, whilst “Citizen Andy Biddulph” kept the home fires of the revolution burning with his customary anti-capitalist diatribes, some culled from his embryonic website “The Luddite”. Fizz 9 meets on September 20th at Polesworth Refectory at 7. 30pm. 19-07-11

Gary Longden


Spoken word and acoustic night

The Lamp Tavern, Dudley

Looking at the Lamp Tavern from the road, who would believe that lovely little assembly room was tucked away behind it, I didn't, until I walked into this charming venue.

We were ‘warmed up' for the evening by Greg Stokes, who told us a humorous tale of aggression at a Bob Dylan concert. For the younger element, he was talking about a gig by the music guru of the peacenik generation.

Geoff Stevens, first on stage, treated us to a fine selection of his unique brand of poetry, mainly written about  Wednesbury and West Bromwich and some of the local customs. One of which I must admit reminded me of my younger days of outdoor courting.

Geoff was followed by Carol Midwood who told us her spooky tale of two ne're do wells and their attempt to steal a body from the local morgue and Neil Morris, who treated us to some of his lively brand of music – sans acoustics.

The second half kicked off with Greg Stokes reading his story about how the God, God particle was found in the Black Country. Greg has a style of reading that grabs you and drags you into the story, quite fascinating.

Sue Hulse has a rare background in being a Yorkshire lass with Polish blood in her veins and it is this mixture that she showed us in her “Coat tales”, stories from her family. Sue is a light-hearted lady who tells a fine tale.

The evening finished with Brendan Hawthorne giving us of his best, which included a very funny double act with Greg Stokes, as he gave us his poem about his ventriloquists dummy.

All in all a good well balanced evening that could possibly have done with starting just a little earlier, as some members of the audience had to leave early for buses etc. and missed a lot of laughs. 15-07-11

Eileen Ward-Birch


Lichfield Poets

Lichfield Festival 

This year the Lichfield Festival has been a curious affair, seemingly top heavy with high ticket out-of –town performers, and light of local talent.

Poetry, save for the appearance of Carol Ann Duffy, has been poorly served.  That is a huge shame. Thriving poetry groups operate in Lichfield, Polesworth and Burton with several more close by. Performance poets with a national reputation also perform across the Midlands.

So the appearance of Lichfield Poets at the Lounge cafe and the George Hotel, both in Bird St, for two, free, twenty minute performances, was welcome to all enthusiasts of spoken word- and they did not disappoint.

Performing poetry to an audience of the curious, who are free to leave at any moment, is no easy task. Lichfield poets tackled this by sheer weight of numbers. There were seven performers reading quick fire poems that rarely lasted more than a minute or so woven together by a central presenter who introduced the performers and poems to keep things moving at a brisk pace, and it worked. The art is not one of literary brilliance but of a neat idea and a memorable turn of phrase to hook the audience.


Janet Jenkins opened wisely with the unifying call of “We Want to Be Together” whilst later entertaining with tales of a copulating frog stunned by a mobile phone which she had dropped, and some errant false teeth. The zeitgeist of a mid summer's downpour was captured by Jan Arnold with “Two Umbrellas”, and she shamelessly flirted with her “Little Black Dress of Desire”.

Two poets stood out with their humour. Brian Asbury has a robust acting resume and his confidence and projection held him in good stead with “The Aardvark and the Squid” and his “Peculiar Pet (pterodactyl)”. Stephanie Knipe maintained the surreal by warning us of the sentience of Wheelie Bins and the dangers of sending gateau through the post, incorporating content which David Lynch might deem preposterous.

“Naughty Naughty” was a thoughtful vignette on what it is like to be a small child and was well delivered by Marjorie Neilsen. Poems about relationships are meat and drink for poets, but Val Thompson was fearless in performing “A Well Worn Marriage” with her husband in the audience!

Perhaps she was hoping that forgetfulness, as explored in her sharply observed “Automatic Recall” would come into play? Yet it was her evergreen “Stylist Theresa” which for me has the authenticity and simplicity of Beatles Lyrics circa “Penny Lane and “Eleanor Rigby”, which shone. The two sets closed with “Lichfield”, an impressive, evocative cinq cinquaine, which had been written, and was performed, collaboratively.  

And so the performance drew to a close, in two venues, over two and a half hours. A resounding success, hopefully it will provide a platform for similar such events in the future.  16-07-11

Gary Longden


Poetry Cafe

Covent Garden 

First of all let me tell you what this isn't. It isn't, in any real sense of the word, a review. It can't be. Thirty seven performers (plus the MC, Niall O'Sullivan) in three hours (minus the fifteen minute break) conspired with a room so crowded with poets and poetry-lovers that there wasn't space enough to make notes, to make a proper review impossible. Just the name-checks would use up the whole word-count!
I can tell you about the venue, downstairs in The Poetry Cafe, hidden away in a Covent Garden backstreet, below a vegetarian Cafe where the lampshades have Ralph Steadman cartoons, the walls are thickly plastered with posters for poetry events and the customers sit and discuss the relative merits of Kerouac and Ginsberg.
The performance room was filled to no more than about five times a comfortable capacity and every one of the extremely friendly and welcoming crowd was a bone fide poetry aficionado. The performance reviews though are where it all gets a bit impressionistic.
We had. . .


 London accents, Irish accents, Liverpool accents and American accents. . .

poetry that was prosaic and poetry that was profound. . .

straightforward, metaphorical and surreal. . .

saintly, discrete, scurrilous and frankly obscene. . .

rhyming verse and free verse. . .

rapping styles, lyrical styles and singing. . .

structured, unstructured and chaotic. . .

confident performances and slightly nervous performances. . .

poems about sex, god, poverty, celebrity, reality, fantasy, food, fetishism, zombies, flat-sharing, travel, the Government viewed as a boyfriend, the Government viewed as a tyranny, Los Angeles and Chessington, science, art, mathematics. . .

poems where I couldn't tell you what they were about if you gave me sixpence. . .


It was gloriously, wonderfully frantic and intense and what we didn't have - and it's really quite remarkable - was a single poor performance. I got up and did my bit half way through the first half and had a nicely warm response which pleased me given the company I was keeping.  

Niall kept a necessarily tight rein on the proceedings and everything went splendidly. For poets and poetry lovers alike if you are in the region of Covent Garden on a Tuesday night I'd recommend it, but, if it's always so well-attended, dress in cool clothes and take your own oxygen supply. 12-07-11

Bob Hale


Nuneaton Poetry Day – Various Locations

Enjoying poetry can come in many forms. Sometimes it may be in a good book, on other occasions it may be listening to others at a poetry event, or performing oneself, to the converted.

But it can also be about a challenge. Several weeks ago at Polesworth Poets I was chatting to Rach Goth who told me about plans for the above event, but confided that she was short of professional help.

By chance I had spoken to Slam Colossus Mark Niel a few days previously who had told me that he was looking for festival work – I was happy to play matchmaker, and was delighted to learn that he was available and had accepted a role.

The combination of Mark's formidable presentational skills, Mal Dewhirst's organisational talents and local knowledge augured well for the day, and so it proved. Mal conceived the excellent idea of creating a collaborative poem using words supplied to him from as far afield as possible. This type of initiative appeals to me. So I went about contacting some established friends in South Africa, Ohio and France, and made some speculative approaches to people in New Zealand and Alaska. The response was heart-warming, making a modest contribution to the impressive result:

In a single Moment

Collaborative poem from the world to Nuneaton Summer Poetry Day.
The ambidextrous clap themselves
for single handedly building steam powered computers,
whilst the Levellers emphasise the popular need for purple
and black in these gothic times.
Free spirits shift their shapes into places and make homes,
saying “welcome we are Kami”.
The splendiferous can not decide on their monikers
and so make up words, bemuddled.
Tourists marvel at the Roman, Medieval and modern
as they sit together upon the seven hills.
South Africans, greet us with “Dumula”
and put fresh ribs on the Braai saying “come and eat”.
Whilst in Ottawa there is a conundrum,
should the girl from Cork, go to lectures
or the market to eat beaver tails with hazelnut and chocolate.
The seeds of ice, rooted to the bedrock,
take away the tundra weeds on Alaskan winds,
as the Washington set, hunt for conch and cinder among the dunes
and declare the blabby days as times for family picnics,
as they ascend the Eastsound dock.
The English pagans wash their floors with lant liquids
to cleanse the mind, body and Kami,
Californian crows caw-caw as their sharp scalpel wings
drive through the flesh air at sunset,
where on its rise in the North island,
little Scotland, the tartan gumboots
stir the slow curmudgeonly ceilidh
until reaching the efflorescence of the reel,
melliflous to some, but to others a prelude to serendipity,
mere foibles of the passage,
in Burton, the breweries pour another pint,
malcontent with lesser brews,
in Droitwich, a poet polishes brass buttons
with all the gusto of a circus troupe
“The bombasticfantastically”,
whilst in Birmingham, once city of thousand trades,
inchoate poets are making poetry that bites,
as Langland's sleepy mountains dream
in the blue of lapis lazuli,
and in Nuneaton, Warwickshire,
the poets slam their own sixty seconds
and then head to the Crown to drink in these words.
Mal Dewhirst in collaboration with the poets on the Word list.
(c) 2011 All Rights Reserved.

http://nuneatonpoetryday. wordpress. com.

The day itself was a combination of readings in Waterstones, an evening open mic in a pub, a poet-tree, open air readings and the world's first 60 second open air slam. I was under no illusions as to what was required, a poem which would grab the attention of the audience from the first phrase, and retain it thereafter.

At 11am I scoured the Wikipedia entry for Nuneaton, and by 11. 15 it was job done. On the stump, the forensic detective skills of Mark Niel subsequently outed my source material and exposed the absurdity of Jordan's amorous designs on me but fortunately this did not count against me as I fortuitously won the Slam title against competition modest in number, but determined in intent. Thanks to Colin Hench, Gary Carr and Sammy Joe amongst others for such valiant opposition.

A warm summers day in George Eliot country was the perfect backdrop to a successful event made so by the sheer will, determination and enthusiasm of all involved. And that is something that I am proud, and passionate, about. Taking words and poetry out and about, from quiet corners into the hurly burly of everyday life and making it live.

Nuneaton Poetry Day at the Fountain

Nuneaton I salute you on a lovely summer day!
Would I rather be anywhere else ? No chance, no way!
Is there anywhere else for which I could reasonably hanker
Than on the banks of the beautiful River Anker

Your name came when the nuns stopped at Eaton for a rest
And decided that for this fair town chastity was best
Nowhere else would think of piling a hill so very high with mud
And then deciding to call it simply Mount Judd

For leisure you sought the finest retail inventor
Who proceeded to deliver you the famous Rope Walk Shopping centre
The names of the illustrious who have lived here resound for evermore
Like the wonderful Larry Grayson, and his pleas to “shut that door”
He entertained us regally, till we had reached our fill
How strangely inappropriate that he should have come from Camp Hill

It was George Elliot's Milby too, of writing fame and splendour
Who by ambiguous use of first names became the very first gender bender
You are twinned with Guadalajara in Spain, and Cottbus in Germany
But there is only one place that Nuneaton should be twinned with- and that is Hungary.


Gary Longden


The Poet's Perspective

A personal reflection by Poet in Residence, Mal Dewhirst.

THIS last week saw the culmination of three months work to organise the Nuneaton Summer Poetry day with the event itself. My part in the day was as the poet in residence, observing the events and writing about them on the blog at http://nuneatonpoetryday. wordpress. com

I arrived early to see the market team installing the last of the blue and white gazebos that make up the covers over the market stalls. They had been up far earlier than me to get them all into place so that the stall holders could set out their tables and start displaying their wares in time for the first customers who were starting to enter the town by nine.

As I said, I was early so headed to a coffee shop to grab a much needed eye-opener and to write my first two poems of the day ‘Early' and ‘Coffee at 9:00 am', I was joined by my partner in crime for the organisation of the day, Rach Flowers, who was dressed in her spectacular black dress and boots that any female Goth would be proud to wear.

We proceeded to meet the artists from Art Alert who were decorating the benches, inspired by poems that I had provided them, from Michael Drayton to Wordsworth to Blake and some modern poems, including one of my own, one from Mark Niel, the minstrel poet for the day. The benches were covered with cushions made from wall paper and included a newspaper inside of which was a copy of the poems that they used to inspire them.

It was interesting to watch to town folk as they were unsure whether they could sit on the benches and Art Alert had to put up signs to say “Please Do Sit on the Benches”, which I am sure one or two people managed to put the word “NOT” into when they read it.


The easiest way was to lead the way and sit on the bench with my poem on which I had my photo taken. This seemed to do the trick and before long people were sitting on the benches and reading the poems in poems in the newspapers.

I managed to get some words to use in a poem from the Art Alert team and very soon had the basis for my third poem ‘Benches' which I am sure one or two people managed to put the word “NOT” into when they read it.

Art Alert also brought along a bright blue tree from which we hung poetry kites and other poems to make our Poetree, it was originally planned that the bench poems would hang as fruit from the tree, but as these were now in the newspapers, the tree was a little bare at the start of the day, but as the day progressed the poetry kites became the leaves and fruit and added to the colour of the day.

My base for blogging was the Community Café, which was proving a difficult venue for people to perform as the local people were not sure what to expect, Colin King was holding court in this location story telling and engaging with his audience, getting them involved with where the story went next.

I wrote the poem ‘Community Café' as I sat and updated the blog, using the line ‘bending his words around the ears of Saturday', where ‘Saturday' is used as a collective noun for all that normally goes on in the town on Saturday, the market, the shoppers, the meeting of friends, they are always there.

Colin made full use of the space walking through it and projecting his voice with its wonderful Irish lilt. It is certainly as sense of theatre that helps to engage an audience; Colin was never static and could not be totally ignored.


This highlights the difficulty of working in such spaces, many poets read at poetry events, where they have an audience that has come to listen, an event such as this is challenging because most of the people have come to do their shopping, meet with friends and do their normal Saturday routine. Poets and story tellers can be ignored, unless they provide something that captures the imagination.

People don't necessarily have to stop to listen; they can still wander along hearing the words as they float through the market stalls. There is also an argument that reading a poem out-loud in the street or anywhere is a ritual and that it does not matter whether anyone is listening, purely reciting the words as an act in itself is a worthy thing to do.

People like, the Brazilian Poet Márcio-André de Sousa, who I had the pleasure to meet in 2009 when he filled the Tin Angel Bar with sound poetry at Night Blue Fruit in Coventry. He ventured out to the Chernobyl Nuclear site in 2007 on what many considered a suicidal trip, purely to read poetry to the landscape, to the shell of this devastation, which he did for six hours.

Whatever your thoughts on performance and the need or not for an audience, then I think events such as Nuneaton Summer Poetry Day needs to cater for both; those who see it as a ritual and those who want to engage with an audience, things to be considered for any future event.


The idea of a collaborative poem came to me quiet early in the process, I did it back in March with the Children at Birchwood Primary School in Polesworth, where we played with Kite Poetry and they gave me words to form the basis of the collaborative poem to be used on the poetry trail. I really liked the idea of words coming in to Nuneaton from all over the world and then being shaped into a poem that in some way reflected the day. Calls for words were put out on Facebook and Twitter and through the blog. Face book friends passed it on to their friends, and thanks to Gary Longden who really took hold of the idea and sent it to his friends in far distant places, many of who responded.

I was interested in the words where they would come from, who else was thinking about Nuneaton and poetry, but could not come to the town itself, I wanted part of the festival to be accessible through the web, that it was a global event with its heart in Nuneaton.

I received words from across the globe, the farthest being from Waipu on the North Island of New Zealand 11, 269 miles away, from the words provided I composed the poem ‘In a Single Moment' which drew its theme from the 60 second slam and the idea that whilst the poets in Nuneaton were performing then around the world at the same time the other events were taking place. Unifying a set of individual acts in to the events at the Poetry Day. It seemed to me that the words were just as important as the places and the people who had sent them and that the poem should reflect this.

Since the day itself, another poet has also taken the words and created her own poem, which I hope to post on the blog in the next few days.


My last poem posted on the day was my poem ‘Nuneaton', which I will admit was written in the days on the run up to the event rather than on the day itself. The reason for this was that I wanted to present the town with a more crafted poem,  .

The poem uses the River Anker, which runs through the town but has been diverted under the streets and so as you wander around you may not know it was there, it uses the poet searching for the river on market day as its theme, and how this once sparkling ribbon in the landscape has now been replaced by the glints from the market stalls, until the poet spots the movement of the people and reflects that they flow as if mimicking the river.

The day finished in the Crown pub with an open mic, compered by Milton Keynes Poet Laureate Mark Niel who organised the slam and kept things flowing at the Fountain poetry stop. The night ended with music from the Folk band, Folklaw who were excellent and should not be missed if you get a chance to see them at festivals and venues around the Midlands.

Mal Dewhirst

Mal is organizer of the “Fizz” events run by Polesworth Poets, the next one runs on Tuesday 19th July, Matt Merritt, headlines, for more information: http://pollysworda. wordpress. com/ 


Words and Voices 1 2