Words and Voices
If you want to find more about what’s happening in poetry and the spoken word in and around the Midlands you can now listen to Behind The Arras on Radio Wildfire with views on individual events, what we think are the month’s highlights, and discover who our Poet to watch is for the month. http://www. radiowildfire. com/listen/
Mouth & Music
Sarah Tamar started the evening with two topical poems on Thatcher’s (not-so-great!!!) legacy and then, in stunning contrast, a sensual tribute to Leonard Cohen. Chris Guidon performed two moving poems in his characteristic casual yet appealing manner. His genuine, offhand style belies the strong writing and emotion in his work.
Worcester’s Suz Winspear was on fine theatrical and poetic form with her dark and intriguing narratives, as was Maths Jones with his dramatic poetry satire The Poet Lied. Narrative was in fact a feature of the evening, with Ian Ward also reading his Tales of a Storyteller.
Amongst the music acts (many of whose names I unfortunately didn’t manage to catch) Ian Passey aka Humdrum Express, is a Mouth and Music regular whose set combined music and humour with great success.
Many performers had tailored their sets to include pieces themed round the stunning vinyl art created from old records exhibition in the gallery upstairs. Sadly, I wasn’t able to stay for the second half but did get to listen to two particularly impressive poets before I left: headline act Ddotti Bluebell and Ian Bowkett from the floor.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Ddotti at a number of spoken word events and her performance was full of pace, drama, a range of voices, tone and pitch and striking poetry. There was a great mix of humour and moving genuineness to her set of family narrative, my personal favourites being her poem about being a teenage mum and her hair piece, demonstrating how much her father’s support has made her the poet and person she is.
Meanwhile, Ian Bowkett, who’d come all the way from Birmingham to perform his stunning set (from memory) was my find of the evening. Apparently geeky is the new uber-cool, and listening to Ian Bowkett one can instantly see why.
“In a dress that pressed her breasts together like a
Venn diagram…” Combining love stories with strong rhymes and incredibly
clever maths puns, his expertly performed poems had the audience
whooping and cheering. A great evening – as ever at Mouth and Music!
Much Wenlock Poetry Festival
THIS was my second visit to this festival, now in its fourth year. A product of the creative force of local bookshop owner, and poetry aficionado, Anna Dreda, a strong and varied programme augured well, as did the crowds milling around as I arrived in the late morning, before formal proceedings had commenced.
There was plenty to do for the casual visitor. Kurly McGeachie was on hand in an impressive yurt to provide poetry workshops for children, and Deborah Alma, AKA “The Emergency Poet”, provided emergency poetic treatment for those seeking it in her vintage ambulance. Both benefitted from the comparative warmth that their respective shelters offered as well as doing a grand job with passers-by.
Poems & Pints – George & Dragon PH
This was a free event, hosted by Mark Niel, at lunchtime as an open mic. It was packed. Mark’s genial bonhomie oiled the wheels of a succession of talented poets, several of whom have performed headline spots elsewhere. In many respects it captured the spirit of the festival; inclusive, warm, enjoyable and high quality. A significant proportion of those whom attend poetry festivals are themselves poets, so it is always wise to provide a creative outlet for those who want to perform to new audiences, and listen to unfamiliar voices.
Liz Lefroy and James Sheard – Priory Hall
Liz has been a student, and Jim is a senior lecturer at, Keele University. They made for a shrewd and inspired pairing at a performance that was pleasingly well attended. Wisely, they read two sets each in rotation, a device which allows for contrasting material, as well as contrast between performer.
Liz specialises in memorable phrases as in the opening to Roadside Shrine; “I pass your death each morning”. Her award winning debut collection, Pretending the Weather, is already a year old, but she has a wealth of material in her notebook. A childhood shaped by her clergyman father inevitably looms large, but her poems draw upon the rich imagery of Faith, rather than overtly celebrating or rebelling against those traditions, offering a modern context, as a good preacher might from the pulpit. A Place Called Solomon does this particularly well. Night Coach, a journey ostensibly about a trip from Stoke to Vienna, with its “thick coffee and bad toilets” set against a backdrop of “streaks of neon” suggests more obliquely a journey that transcends the physical. Yet there is no doubting the fierce visceral emotion in The School Concert in which she declares that “I disgraced you by exploding”, a sentiment that all parents will recognise.
James Sheard also spoke of journeys and parental love. The latter most memorably in That Hour, dedicated to his son. On first hearing, it appeared to joyously romp between a formal metre and free verse underpinned by a repeat that worked well performed. His journeys were of geographical displacement, a characteristic of those born to military families, and displacement between languages.
As his reading unfolded he then introduced the concept of vertigo, in the sense of being suspended above, particularly as experienced by those involved in poem translation was introduced, but it also found form in the distance between father and son, and himself and his late mentor. I would have loved a question and answer session in which he could have developed the theme more fully. His writing is economic and unfussy, some of his compounds, “ goldmean and thumb rub”, intriguing. However what distinguishes his work for me is an ability to describe a familiar scene with a phrase that flares up and illuminates. “Landings” from a forthcoming publication, was the standout poem of his performance for me, opening with:
“We wanted a land where we could watch the weather-
See how one hill drew down the drapes of rain, and how another
Would flash its skin in a fall of sunlight”
And I was there.”Sometimes a poem clicks like a well-made box.”
Owen Sheers and Menna Elfyn – The Edge
The golden boy and golden girl of Welsh poetry was quite a prospect, and much anticipated by a large and expectant audience. As a child of parents Swansea born and bred, both offer a sense of place and heritage close to my heart. The Borders crowd gave them a welcome as if for a homecoming.
Owen Sheers has an impressive cannon of work behind him. He draws upon his Welsh heritage freely whilst offering it a 21st century setting. He read extensively from his soon to be published Pink Mist a verse drama developed from a play written for radio. This was a brave move. His published poetry is widely known and admired, and he was available to sign books, sales of which would undoubtedly have been enhanced by a “greatest hits” set. Yet, any artist is keen to expose fresh work to performance and scrutiny, a process which invariably refines the end product. What was lost in familiarity was compensated for in freshness.
Pink Mist tells the story of three young soldiers from Bristol embarking on a tour of Afghanistan told in various first person voices including those of the women left behind- hence the pink mist. It draws upon many literary traditions not least that of The Odyssey, and the quest to return home. Its rhyming was light, bright, tight and unobtrusive with a strong, insistent metrical structure. Sheers is a consummate reader of poetry, assured, confident, and clear with a melodic lilt to compliment the material. A fine performance.
No modern Welsh language poet has been published more than Menna Elfyn who is a standard bearer for the Welsh language, culture, Welsh language poetry and poetry in her homeland. Menna performed in Welsh and English to a sympathetic Borders audience. As a translator of Welsh poetry, and someone whose work is translated into numerous foreign languages, she memorably described poetry in translation as like kissing through a handkerchief. Her Welsh language reading was certainly easy on the ear, but it is true that when you add up the number of Welsh speakers, take away those not interested in poetry, those able to appreciate her in her mother tongue is inevitably modest.
Menna’s work is not only meticulously crafted, it is also written with a smile, a facet most admirably apparent in “Babysitting at the Crematorium” when she babysat an infant before retiring to a cafe, informally called “The Creme de la crem”. Some poems came from her collection Murmur, yet her words resonated with a roar rather than a murmur, my favourite as the son of Swansea parents was “The Cockle Woman” a delightful vignette on those women who would roam the pubs and clubs with locally harvested cockles in a wicker basket, I loved the idea that someone would purchase simply to lighten her load.
And so a day of poetic delight drew to a close on a festival which drew together old friends of mine, and provided a forum to forge new ones, as well as to hear new poetry performed in a complimentary environment. 07-04-13
Great Western Pub, Leicester
It was, as usual, a wonderful night of poetry in the convivial atmosphere we have come to expect from this bi-monthly event. (That’s every two months, not twice a month as some people have mistakenly presumed.)
Jane Commane welcomed us and read Reasonable from a new Nine Arches Press release Hide by Angela France. According to Gray’s Law Dictionary ‘The man on the Clapham Omnibus is synonymous with the pinnacle of reason in humanity.’ This poem is about that man shaking off his shackles and running amok in a rather English way. I liked it and I’m also enjoying her collection, which was one of my purchases from The States of Independence independent publisher’s festival held at De Montfort Uni on Saturday.
I love this one –
I like the shape
of the word in my mouth. The sharp angle
of it’s beginning, its fulsome end.
I like the planes of them,
the sigh of their support as I relax against a wall,
the flat surface they offer to the sun.
I like the way they lie,
mirrored either side of my spine,
how they slide under my skin as I move,
how they quietly hold the potential of wings.
Fantastic open mics… Roy Marshall gave us Richard the Lionheart’s heart –– ‘a plump and fragrant fist wrapped in linen, placed in a lead lined box.’ Richard Birt gave us more blood, guts and gore with his ‘It Just So Happens.’ Caroline Cook gave us a witty and timely image of the EEC wrapped in a patchwork knitted blanket, ‘Death of a Euro,’ ending with the blanket unravelling to ‘Yarn drifting down onto the backs of munching sheep.’ Siobhan Logan treated us to one from her ‘Mad, Hopeless and Impossible’ pamphlet about Shackleton’s misadventure to the Antarctic. She read us ‘Snowstruck’ which contains the covetable phrase ‘dazzled by frazil ice / blinded by berg-light.’ Nathan Lunt is working on a series on Darwin and read to us one about the torment between head and heart, faith and science –– always a good subject. Katerina Kalinowski read ‘Click, Click’ the ‘Fucking rain’ quite mesmerising. Mike Brewer treated us to one of his poems about poems, ‘On Writing One’ which was/is a villanelle about writing a villanelle. Maxine Linnell gave us a tender poem in a series she’s working on around the death of her son in 2010, called ‘Chocolate.’ I admire the way Maxine’s poems resonate with quiet, reigned in emotion, the result of which is most affecting. Andrew Button treated us to ‘the approaching eclipse of middle age,’ a subject that seems to be rapidly receding into the past (sigh). Kate Ruse read her poem ‘Love on the Bridge’ another very delicate poem recently commended in our LWC Love Poetry Competition judged by Maria Taylor. Jayne Stanton read a new poem ‘You do not have to say,’ ‘your brambled fingertips…’ beautiful… I really like the new direction of Jayne’s poetry and look forward to hearing/reading more. Kathy Bell was instructed by Deborah Tyler Bennett to ‘write a poem about Lace’ for the recent Notts Festival and being a compliant soul she obeyed. I wish I could come up with the goods Tommy Cooper stylee ‘just like that!’ –– great ending –– ‘Hands which are still smooth, still white for idleness.’ I would love to read it off the page…
Featured poet Nichola Deane recently won the Flarestack Poets pamphlet comp alongside the already raved about on this blog David Clarke’ with Gaud. Nichola’s Pamphlet My Moriarty is equally ravable about. She read us the eponymous poem –– witty, cerebral, oblique, slightly surreal –– which gave us a good taster for the rest of her set.
Up on the Reichenbach Falls, Moriarty,
just you, me and a flattering rainbow-hued
nimbus of mist. You with that spidery voice,
all machinating, echoey, hoaxey-coaxy,
or the ursine growl you use to show who’s boss.
Nichola uses launguage to great effect and is not afraid of playfulness. Ursine. Nimbus. What’s not to love? She’s also really into a poet of the Tang Dynasty, Wang Wei, (all news to me, but I have googled…)
And I loved this ––
After Wang Wei
On the empty mountain,
no-one at all, apparently,
and yet there are echoes:
the trace of voices and sunlight
piercing the canopy,
touching with long fingers
the give of green moss.
I admired Nichola’s piece about the wife of VILHELM HAMMERSHØI. He (the artist) often painted her (his wife) from behind, just her back, (another google…) and often playing the piano. It was delightfully intriguing to have her imagined voice heard, this woman who was seemingly ignored, who was released the minute her fingers made contact with the keys. I very much hope that Nichola will relax into herself during future readings as she gains confidence. Her work is good and she should read it proudly.
Jane Commane introduced Jonathan Taylor, saying that it’s good to have been a part of a poets development, to have seen/heard various poems in various stages and then to have seen the seeds of those poems flower and come together in a first collection. For me that is one of the best things about attending a regular poetry evening. And for so many different writers.
Jonathan’s first full collection, Musicolepsy, is published by Shoestring Press and another lovely book I bought at State of Independence. What I like about Jonathan’s work is that it is often very funny –– an emotion often missing from poetry, and indeed comtemporary literature. To quote Charles Boyle during the wonderful discussion about the short story (at this Saturday’s States of… you should have been there…) there is a lot of ‘exquisite doom’ in writing today. Mr Boyle was concerned about this, and I can understand why. I often write what sets out to be an upbeat piece, poem, story, yet it quickly descends into a bogland of gloom. Not sure why. But –– much of Jonathan’s poetry manages to avoid and transcend that particularl pit. Joyously. From ‘Leap of Faithlessness,’
Would you believe all this,
take the leap of faith in reverse,
hold Kierkegaard up to mirrors,
jump back to absurd reality over an abyss
of flailing dinosaurs?
Or would you just think I was taking the piss?
More open mic’s… Matt Merrit opened with ‘Hen Capercaillie,’ a lush and naturalistic evocation. Dave Tunelly gave us a musing on Constable’s Haywain including many nostalgic mentions of those orange glowing lethal looking inefficient heating systems known as bar fires. I can picture many a room “warmed’ by them in my youth. Harriet Warner stunned us with linguistic gymnastics (all memorised… oh youth, where art thou…) and a diatribe on women’s dietary products. Laurie Cussack read us ‘Stuff.’ Bob Richardson wooed us with ‘Hamlet after Pasternak’ –– ‘life is not a country walk.’ Rebecca Bird, prior to being congratulated on being just published in ‘Envoi’ magazine (well done!) read us ‘A Vicar from the Stalls.’ Deborah Tyler Bennett, fresh from her poet in residency for Notts Festival themed ‘Lace’ read us her ‘Homage to Walker’s Workers.’ Next up, Simon Perril, who has recently published a collection with Leafe Press titled ‘Newton’s Splinter’ gave us the best line of the night… ‘the problem with poets… too many plugs, not enough sockets…’ Gary Carr followed with David Bowie’s ‘Archer.’ I enjoyed Charles Lauder’s poem inspired by a texan saying descibing that moment when it’s both sunny and rainy as ‘the devil kissing his wife.’ ‘The Devil and Love’ is a deliciously concrete evocation of a gloriously ephemeral notion. Tom Wyre talked mental illness, taut and hard hitting, in ‘The Lucid Door.’ Will Breedon read us a lover’s Lament bringing us the third mention of dinosaurs with ‘We carbon dated…’
Third Featured poet –– Jess Green. I have seen/heard Jess many times at Word! but it was quite different seeing/hearing her tonight. She’s exciting, energetic, full of life, emotion and kinetic energy, quite electrifying really. She is part of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective and a seasoned performer, but it was good to be able to buy her first pamphlet, #Romance, published by Holdfire to see what her poems look like on the page. Jess writes about being young, being a student, being no longer a student, being an artist, being out of work, being stoned/drunk/pissed off, and what struck me is that, although there are (shit!?!) thirty years separating her twenty something’s and mine, apart from the names of the chemicals imbibed/snorted/inhaled, the styles of garb worn and the particular tunes one jigged along to while abusing one’s body, little has changed. I found that strangely reassuring. That is not to belittle Jess’s craft in any way. She’s a fine poet –– From Scratch Your Degree:
Take away the words that hurt until they healed,
bury Ariel with Sylvia,
drag the winter dawn down,
unclench my jaw
like he never touched me at all.
And when they ask you what you did for three years,
And from the poignant and delightful Potatoes:
I told her I was intimidated
when I took my beans on toast out the microwave,
she laughed and said
‘you learn variety in dinners
when your parents abandon you aged six
and only reappear when you win a lacrosse match.’
Last up –– Mark Goodwin. Mark read to us, in his inimmitable style, one long poem from his chapbook Layers of Un, published by Shearsman, titled Sun-Fall & Tools, a Watermead Park, a Charnwood, a May 2011.
the sky held cathedral-grand clouds
spring sun lit floating seed-fluffs
& the up-down dance of gnats
a duck & her so-far-five
-surviving ‘lings scottled across
the lake’s sparkling membrane
Mark is such a master of place, a consummate naturalist, I can feel, taste, touch, see his environs, his ‘un’spaces, with such vivid clarity as his words gradually reveal his worlds. Always a pleasure.
Go buy some poetry…
Nottingham Festival of Words
Having studied Knitwear Design at Trent Poly, as it was known back in the day, I enjoyed revisiting Nottingham Trent University.
Newton building, (right) always a magnificent example of mid 20th century architecture, has certainly spruced itself up and spinning through the revolving doors is like entering a smart new airport terminal. Skating across acres of polished white flooring I grabbed my press pack and headed for a wide thoroughfare banked by six lecture theatres. I was really looking forward to the day’s events after such a wonderful time last Saturday and took my seat for the first, breathless with anticipation, (plus a mad sprint up the road due to an altercation with a recalcitrant parking meter.).
Trent Poet s
Shoestring Press publisher and poet John Lucas introduced our four readers, Andrew Taylor, Rory Waterman, Sarah Jackson and Gregory Woods. Andrew Miller unfortunately couldn’t appear due to illness..
Andrew Taylor, according to Mr Lucas, has an eyewatering number of publications under his belt. Proving the point he read from a stack of books, one of which Radio Mast Horizon published by Shearsman, is winging its way towards me as I write.
She Strokes Bees, a poem inspired by his niece, was his first offering: On the telephone mast starlings gather/are they being fried slowly/or is it convenient parking? It gets better every time we meet.
This stanza sums up his tone; conversational, often wry, sometimes other-wordly, always well observed. I particularly liked Chocolate Soup and Market Place, the latter a simple and affecting description of a moment, leaving what is not said to resonate.
Sarah Jackson read from her recent debut Pelt, published by Bloodaxe (to lush reviews.) I’ve been enjoying this collection for a couple of weeks and hearing Sarah explain that she rarely writes autobiographically and many of these poems are dark, surreal flights of imagination further enhanced my appreciation. I admired Ten O’Clock Horses –– where spiders squat in solitude, / cursing at the two moons / under my nightdress (…) First he snuffs the lamp. / then he snuffs my mother. / She lands softly, like teeth. Her piece about the testing of Anthrax after the war, Operation Dark Harvest is a powerful list poem sandwiched between bible plague and pestilence. These poems unsettle, startle, fascinate and are some of the most original and beautiful I have read in a while. Pelt is a must for any poetry lover. Buy and devour.
Rory Waterman, poet and joint editor of the excellent New Walk Magazine, read from various sources. I enjoyed Keepsakes about a day out with his ma rummaging through antiques that would rather be bric-a-brac, ending with the lovely line, shoestepping round tat, but relishing it a little, perhaps.
He also read Broadland, full of highly visual imagery: the bay –– A necklace of bobbing launches (…) grebe speckled water. In Visiting Grandpa, and Family Business, Rory spirals out from the kernel of family until spinning up and away, we see the whole from a new perspective. I look forward to discovering more gems in his forthcoming collection published by Carcanet. Several of his poems can be found on the PN Review website… if you’re a subscriber. (I recommend it.)
Gregory Woods, (below) also published by Carcanet told us he was having a sonnetty sort of morning. I love a good sonnet and very much enjoyed this reading. As soon as he began it was obvious we were in the hands of a master tecnician, but I was also charmed by his bold, honest imagery and sardonic humour.
He opened with Life Study and Splashes, inspired by Hockney and commissioned for the Nottingham Contemporary’s inaugural exhibition of new and old works by the artist. These gently homo-erotic poems were full of stunning lines: those whippy boys who coif us,(…) bellies flat as wafers,(…) sweat as sweet as reefers.
He read a section from a long dramatic monologue in the voice of Lord Byron and had us laughing out loud with his witty preamble. The lines just kept coming: tasting by eye their mahogany rumps, and thus, Quidnunc and May I Say Nothing have been ordered from Carcanet and will soon be studied and enjoyed..
We Used To Live Here
Three poets, Tom Warner, Jamie McKendrick and Éireann Lorsung, were brought together on a loose connection of having spent some time living and working in Nottingham, leading on to a discussion of place within poetry.
We began with Tom Warner, a 2010 Faber New Poet. The subjects of Tom’s poems are often intimate, domestic, concrete and his language displays a youthful pragmatism coupled with a controlled and fresh use of imagery.
His first, the autobiographical Networking revealed much. I loved this whimsical premise that a (talking) dog (named George) would be a preferred partner at a smart Faber lunch/launch party, due to the creature’s inate ability to break down social barriers.
I identified with Goodbye Tobacco as a hardened addict myself and the image of the newby non-smoker standing outside with the smokers like a man who, recently divorced, waits outside his ex-wife’s home, rang very true. Here is a link to Tom’s website where you can read Scabs and Under Natural History, which he also read for us today. I look forward to Tom’s first full-length collection.
Jamie Mckendrick read several poems from Out There and Crocodiles and Obelisks, both published by Faber. Several of his poems stemmed from memories of a childhood in Liverpool and he read us one with an unpronounceable Welsh title (his words,) about the city drowning a valley village so it could steal the Soft Welsh Water.
I admired Out There: (…) what once had been / where heaven was, is barren beyond imagining, describing how astronauts nostalgia for earth is more powerful than their wonder of space. I also liked the witty Stricken Proverbs: Time’s flies wait to feast on no man (…) Never a nail in the blacksmith’s forge, / nor a pen in the poet’s pocket..
Éireann Lorsung created the Nottingham Poetry Series whilst researching her doctorate at Nottingham University on Love and Deconstruction. She couldn’t be with us due to visa problems, so her poem An England was read out on her behalf, beautifully by someone called Polly and I feel very remiss in not jotting down her surname. (Polly –– if you read this, please let me know and I’ll add it plus any links!)
More than any of today’s poems, this gave us an insight on how place can affect, partcularly with the perspective of distance, both time and physical: That this morning we drove through hills / the green of the hills the bright / green of them (…) we / are kept here on earth / by who knows, perhaps / that green
An England is a beautiful pean to a country seemingly engrained deep into Éireann’s psyche..
Both Tom and Jamie have translated poetry (Jamie quite extensively) and we had an interesting discussion on this subject after their readings. I asked whether such intimate immersion into another poet’s mind-workings had any effect on their own writing. Jamie said at the time of undertaking the work the poet’s voice tends to speak louder than his, but as soon as the project is finished he finds his way back into his own skin. Tom said that he completed his translation work six months ago and hasn’t written any new poetry since. Let’s hope he re-finds his voice very soon..
On Saturday the Newton Building, Nottingham Trent University, was jam-packed full of writerly wonderfulness. As well as the above poetry readings, I also enjoyed the following fiction events..
It’s the Words, Stupid! .
Anne McDonnell of Pewter Rose introduced us to Nicky Harlow, Frances Thimann and Brindley Hallam Dennis, all of whom have books published by this interesting and local independent press..
Nicky Harlow began by discussing how some words are inherantly amusing, others are funny when used out of context, or juxtaposed with the serious.
Some make us smile when used by someone unexpected or incorrectly, as in malapropisms, and others because of onomatopoeia. (As a little girl my mum only had to say ‘ploppity plop’ or ‘booby-trap’ to have me in hysterics…) She also explained that a product’s brand name could be used to comedic effect, toting Porsche v Robin Reliant and Kettle Crisps v Monster Munch to illustrate her point.
Her novel Amelia and the Virgin set amongst the Irish community in 1981 Liverpool uses comedy to tackle the serious subjects of religious hysteria, the Catholic Church and teenage pregnancy. Reflecting real life, beneath the jolly surface dark undercurrents often flow..
Frances Thimann discussed how words that are quite plain and simple on the surface could have rich connotations and differing meanings when fully explored. They cast shadows, carry echoes of the past and conjure up learned experience.
She mentioned bread, milk, water and asked us to think of everything these words bring to mind. (the staff of life, milk of human kndness, still waters run deep…) She often uses this technique when beginning a new story; as the old adage goes, there are no new plots, however the characters and their arc, the setting, the metaphors or tropes that carry the plot, bringing it alive, can be original and therefore fresh and exciting.
She then asked us to think about shells; their colour, texture, shape, pattern; associations such as listening to the sea, emerging from, or crawling back into one’s shell; how the intricate frilled openings have sexual significance; empty shell, hidden depths; how they are first and foremost a home… She read us extracts of her story Shells from her collection Cello, and we could see the metaphor beautifully interwoven throughout the story. I found Frances’ talk thought provoking and as a writer, very useful..
Brindley Hallam Dennis began by saying, like Stephen King, when asked how he wrote, he would always reply that he didn’t really know and what’s more, he didn’t necessarily want to pick it to bits. He went on to quote CS Lewis from his series of essays, Of Other Worlds; words, he says, are a net that can be used to catch something, a feeling a thought, a moment, a fleeting thing, something else.
You hope to snag what you’re fishing for so your reader can glance at it. Stories are about the emotion held in words. The story is there to carry the emotion. The emotional content of a word is affected by the words that surround it. In every sentence there is a load bearing word and it helps, as a writer, to be able to recognise it.
As a reader, one doesn’t want to be made aware, one just wants to get there, to get it, wherever there and whatever it is. He finished up by reading a short passage but engaging passage from his novella A Penny Spitfire.
These three authors gave us much to think on. Now I’m looking forward to reading their words.
Love, Sex, Desire and Storytelling
The Royal Company Storytellers, comprising of Maggie burrows, David Whittington, Marilyn Rowley, Robbie Robb and George Bassett treated us to five stories about love and lovers..
First we heard the magical tale of Heloise and Abelard, a tragic love story from the 12th century told to us beautifully by Maggie Burrows..
Next we heard David Whittington tell us the story about an Egyptian boy who climbed a palace wall and saw a beautiful young girl sitting by the garden pool. He came every day and played his flute for her and every day she listened.
Soon he realised he’d fallen in love, but he discovered she was the Pharaoh’s daughter and was disraught. Since he was poor and could do nothing but make music he was convinced she would never love him, so he begged a magician to change him into a conquering hero. He returned years later as a man and did indeed lead the Pharaoh’s armies into battle.
He regained lost kingdoms and recovered lost fortunes and the grateful Pharaoh promised him anything he desired. The man, who was now the most senior general in the Pharaoh’s army and known as the Black Prince, asked for the hand of the Pharoah’s daughter. The Pharaoh agreed, but the princess explained that if she married this prince she would never truly love him because long ago she gave her heart to a young boy who used to play his flute for her. She had searched for the boy for years but his family believed he was dead. She knew she could never love another and had vowed to lead a life of celibacy. Heartbroken, the Black Prince rode off into the sunset, never to be seen again..
I could have listened to Robby Rob’s soft Scottish brogue all evening. Robby told us his tale Love is a Many Splendoured Thing about Jumilla and Ahmed in Bagdhad. Unlike all the other stories there wasn’t a star-crossed couple in sight. We even got a happy ending to boot!.
Marilyn Rowley told us the ghostly tale of Tom Hardcastle and the dastardly highwayman who stole his beloved Nance. Marylin had the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention.
Last up was George Bassett who regaled us with the wonderful story of Pyramus and Thisbe and why the Mulberry Tree bleeds. It made me cry..
And I realised that to be told a story is very, very different from being read a story. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was told a story. A good storyteller can temper her/his pace to the audience and respond to their response, reflecting their mood.
They can up their pace or dawdle as they see fit. And most special of all, the stories will always be slightly different with each and every performance.
I loved the unique retelling of these ancient myths and love stories and I will treasure the hour I spent with the fabulous and masterful practitioners of this lost art. If you ever get the chance to see this talented troupe, do not miss it.
I’m already looking forward to Nottingham Festival of Words 2014!
NEWSTEAD Abbey, originally founded in the 12th century as an Augustinian Priory, but best known as the ancestral home of Lord Byron, was the stunning backdrop for the first full day’s events.
In between readings I braved the bitter cold and wandered through the grounds. Even in subdued February light they are magnificent, particularly the many ancient specimen trees. I can’t believe I’ve never visited before and vow to return in the Spring.
CJ Allen’s self-deprecating humour is always a joy. Asked to fill in a Risk Assessment Questionaire prior to the event, he pointed out that poetry readings rarely harbour the potential to cause harm. However, the St John’s Ambulance crew had been placed on alert because he would, at some point, rhyme geography with pornography…
On the ear, CJ Allen’s poetry, like pitch-perfect prose, flows effortlessly around islets of fine observation and imagery. On the page, its craft shines through and scintillates. Great Writers and their Shirts takes us on a journey through the annals of literature brought to life by each inhabitant’s choice of habit. Tender and insightful, Explaining the plot of Bladerunner to my mother who has Alzheimer’s made me cry on a first reading via Coffee House Poetry, and achieved much the same result today. You can also read it in the latest issue of LeftLion Magazine. I like that Allen’s poetry is grounded by concrete images: a film, a bicycle, a shirt: clothes and artefacts frequently appear throughout his work.
Adrian Buckner, equally laconic, reads with a reserved sincerity and like Allen is no fan of extraneous words. Illustrating another convergence, his openings are often grounded by objects, more often than not books: as good a subject as any, he explains. He read us Anna Karenina from his pamphlet Bed Time Reading. Affectionate and delicate, it points to the ultimate mystery present within even a longstanding relationship. I also thought Downshifting a fine poem, sweet with quiet sorrow and a very English resignation.
CJ Allen’s New and Selected Poems is published by Leafe Press. Adrian Buckner’s pamphlet Bed Time Reading is published by Five Leaves.
Maria and Jonathan Taylor, both working lecturers and parents of four-year-old twins, produced three books between them last year. Impressed? I am.
Maria Taylor read from her acclaimed first collection Melanchrini, published by Nine Arches Press. Her opening poem, At her Grandmother’s Table is resonant with family memories and her Greek Cypriot heritage, both recurring themes thoughout her work. I enjoyed the vibrant imagery in Fable, a poem about the break-up of a relationship and one I’d not heard her read before (…) the pinwheels of light, (…) the snaking filaments of liquid electricity (…) you fall into the calyx of my memory.
Jonathan Taylor read from his novel Entertaining Strangers, recently published by Salt. He introduced us to Jules and Edgar, unique, hilarious and well-imagined additions to literature’s long-lived love affair with odd couples. The writing is very funny, very profane and highly engaging. He ended with a graphic yet lyrical passage describing the horrific 1922 razing of Smyrna, then part of the Ottoman Empire, and the ensuing tragic loss of life. Not unike a tin of Ronseal, this book does exactly what it promises on its cover.
Unique events are a hallmark of Longbarrow Press and editor Brian Lewis did not disappoint, creating a magical and immersive multi-media event with readings from poets Matthew Clegg, whose disembodied voice via digital recording added a slightly eerie fourth dimension, (he couldn’t be there in person due to illness) Chris Jones and Mark Goodwin. Against a backdrop of stunning images from Nikki Clayton, we were taken on a journey through a landscape. Neither urban, nor pastoral, theirs are inbetween spaces: edgy, dubious, blurred. Mark employs the delightful neology Rurban, and lost in their words and worlds our senses explore, discover and gain new insights. Chris’s narratives unfold like tightly edited miniature movies and Matt’s snapshots, haiku-like in their succinct brevity, juxtapose with Mark’s lush and often playful rivers of sound.
Mark read his poem Rurban Membrane…, first as it is written on the page, playing with form so that I lingered over words and phrases, paused and questioned. He later gave us a standard reading of the same piece and the contrast served to highlight the experience of the first. His phonetic ennunciation of (…) wire-barbed-wire, ––x––x––x––x–– (…) jagged tinsel met allic Christ-crowns, will remain with me.
I found their presentation fresh and absorbing and could have listened for another hour to this fascinating, beautiful and unsettling exploration of language and setting.
Christy Fearn, ably abetted by Greg Gwyther‘s enthusiastic readings and energetic garb, gave us a fascinating talk on Lord Byron; his lifestyle, his decandent habits, his womanising, his creative and drug induced excesses, likening his behaviour and attitude to many contemorary rock stars of today. Comparisons were drawn between personalities such as Ziggy Stardust aka David Bowie, Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, the wonderfully weird Marilyn Manson via a plethora of other familiar Wild Nuts through to Madonna and Lady Gaga.
For all you verse-virgins and stanza-sceptics, this set proved that poetry is brimful of great jokes and worth a visit for that reason alone.
Andy Croft, editor of Smokestack Books, introduced us to several publications from his well-respected press. His fine delivery and excellent choice were both amusing and entertaining. I relished Kevin Cadwallender’s The Building Trade, which begins Julian is an existentialist… and ends with the classic and covetable phrase,
(…) the gaffer’s daughter… has a Btec in Freudian hairdressing, which means that every time she cuts someone’s hair they look like a dick.
What’s not to love? I would have gladly travelled thirty sleety miles just for that. I also enjoyed Andy’s pickings from Martin Rowson’s The Limerickiad – funny, clever and highly original.
Mike Wilson had me laughing outloud again. He read, amongst several, the eponymous poem from his collection, Desperanto, a witty villanelle: Poetry? It’s written. Everywhere, the universal launguage of despair. And a poignant poem about his uncommunicative father (I’m with him here) titled Cross Words, complete with rock-n-roll show-cards, (sic) Bob Dylan/Subterranean Homesick Blues, so we could fully appreciate his cryptic puns.
Nigel Thomson read from Letter to Auden. A long poem in four parts, both a communication and a homage to the great W.H. Auden, is written in response to Auden’s letter to Lord Byron. It brings the former up to date with life, art and politcs since his death in 1973. Despite the metrical constraints of rime royal Nigel manages to maintain a lively conversational tone.
The threesome ended the set with their individual contributions to the forthcoming Donny Jonny, a very contemporary take on Byron’s Don Juan. Brilliant!
And so I stumbled back to my car through the Abbey
grounds, the ghostly path illuminated by my phone’s flickering
flashlight, my bag heavy with the weight of poetry. I’m already looking
forward to next Saturday – more poets, more poems and (inevitably) more
new books. 02-13
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent
Now in its fourth year Spoken Worlds continues to go from strength to strength.
February saw a strong roster of performers appeared with a typically diverse range of talent. Rather than simply report on the evening I think it is worth looking at the ingredients which make it so successful.
At its heart is host Gary Carr. Gary understands the
basics. A monthly event must run monthly, on the same day, in the same
place, and you always remind that evening’s audience of when the next
A PA to assists those who need help with projection, and a room which can take sixty people comfortably, but is still intimate, helps.
There are rarely headline acts, just three sections where an individual can perform for up to three minutes, offering a maximum of nine minutes over the evening. This is particularly useful those with content which is diverse. An individual might do a comic, a serious, and a themed slot, all as stand-alone entities.
It is also fiercely egalitarian. Veteran performers like Staffordshire Poet Laureate Mal Dewhirst (making a welcome, and warmly received return to the circuit) and Leicester award winning Poet Jayne Stanton have no more, or less, time than newcomers to the event like Harriet Warner and Nikki Pywell. The only measure is; “is it any good?!” Nikki impressed with an extended piece about control, “It’s time to be bold”, which resounded like a personal manifesto. Gary Carr liked her shoes too. Perhaps she bought them in Marks and Spencer? Harriet’s piece on shopping there with her mother, For One Woman, was waspish, clever and very effective. Spoken Worlds welcomes new performers, one of its many strengths.
Phil Binding’s reputation as our Railway Poet was further enhanced while Rob Stevens combined a fine piece on a nightclub murder with his customary acoustic guitar accompanied song, and a running gag on the weather. Ray and Terri Jolland entertained with a sketch and song and Stephanie Knipe made one of her welcome occasional appearances to speak of hoovers and sheep. So you see, this is no ordinary Spoken Word evening . . .
Spoken Worlds next plays on Friday 15th March at 7.30pm, free admission, sign up on the night. 02-13
Mouth and Music
The Boar's Head, Kidderminster
The Boars Head is ideal for Mouth & Music. The upstairs room is self contained and big enough to take a good size audience, but compact enough to create atmosphere. The landlord and staff are supportive, the prices reasonable, and the piped music is unashamedly hip retro, Lou Reeds’ Waiting for the Man, New York Dolls’ Personality Crisis, Television’s Marquee Moon and Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House set the tone for an evening of diverse, original entertainment.
A full room turned out for a theme loosely based on love, it being Valentines week, and we certainly witnessed the full spectrum. It is to the credit of organisers Sarah Tamar and Heather Wastie that several of the performers were new to me. Familiar faces are good, but any successful event requires that new performers regularly appear to keep the regulars guessing, and coming.
Newcomer Alistair Knowles caught the ear with an irreverent tirade on growing old disgracefully, John Morris delivered his trademark laconic measured fare whilst Andrew owens read a strong short story entitled Dancing Apart. Holly McGill posts a popular blog , her live performance is now catching up with her written missives, Toads and Love I particularly enjoyed, as I enjoyed Suz Winspear’s customarily assured performance, although you can be assured that when Suz writes of In my Dreams those dreams are likely to be as comfortable as a pair of her platform boots. Closing the first half were musical duo Michelle Reynolds and Kim Lowings with an eclectic traditional range of songs performed with affection and panache.
Damon Lord started the second half with some short poems I had not heard before which were particularly effective before William Shatspeare appeared as Johnny Gash with his band the Bleeding Catfaces. They were superb. He combines the demeanour, wit, and appearance of Jarvis Cocker, with the melancholic madness of Morrissey, in an unholy alchemy of the absurd;”If you promise you will be my wife, I promise that I will put down the knife”- you get the picture?!
Ian Ward boldly allowed the audience to select his set by asking them to shout out random numbers which corresponded with specific poems. Normally the poet surprises the audience, I an chooses that the audience surprise him! A seasoned collection ensures that although the pacing is at risk, the quality is not. A newcomer, Io ,gave an enigmatic performance taking in a poem about childhood racial segregation in the United States and an homage to Janis Joplin. She frustrated me for the right reasons. There was clearly an interesting personal story to be told and a back story to her poetry, but we never had the chance to hear it- maybe next time.
Co -organisers Sarah Tamar and Heather Wastie rounded off the open mic, the former with I love to love ( but my baby just loves to dance?), the latter with a trio of new pieces of which Brief Encounter (pull up to the bumper?) stood out. The musical denouement came fromThe Very Grimm Bros, Adrian and John Grimm, who had lowered the drawbridge from Grimm Castle to offer their customary satirical wisdom. Frankly Chris Huhne was a sitting target! They are always a joy to watch, only their Manorial duties preclude world domination.
Myself and Amy Rainbow rounded off the evening, common sense dictates that any critical assessment is best made by others. In any case Amy’s lawyers always check that anything I have said about her is “fair”, a word which has given the legal profession, our psychotherapists and Relate, an inordinate amount of work. Is “difficult” spelt with one f or two?
A fine evening, and one which Amy and I enjoyed hugely. Mouth and Music next plays on Tues 12th March, at 8pm. 02-13.
Western Public House, Leicester
This bi-monthly event is always worth stepping out for and tonight was no exception. The evening is hosted jointly by Jane Commane, Nine Arches Press and Jonathan Taylor, Crystal Clear Creators and is an evening of two halves, both kicked off with several open-mic slots, (which are always of a very high standard) rounded up by two featured artists.
The featured artists this evening were Dave Reeves, Julie Boden, Jayne Stanton and David Clarke.
First up was Jane Commane who welcomed us all and read a lovely winter poem by one of Nine Arches Writers – Andrew Frobisher, Remembering Becomes My Reason.
The open micer’s were Maxine Linnell who read Taking the Lead, about a man with a dog with a lead printed with the words – One of us is single… A delightful flight of fancy. Richard Birt who had us all musing over Christmas leftovers with his assonance and alliteration. Anthony Owens who read three poems full of memorable lines – Realising You Were Wrong For Me: clouds rolled with a rizzla on breastbone (…) like dusk, we haemorrage to bone. The Burning of No 8′s Wheelie Bin: sky charged confederate grey.
And one about the nuclear bomb, Fat Man… your carbonised legacy… powerful stuff. Maria Taylor with The Distance, and one from her collection Melanchrini which I’d not heard her read before, Here’s To You: (…) His name is Vincent, like the artist./The V of his pelvis is as they say,/ All that. I wonder where the zip / would take me, somewhere starry (…) Lovely. Kate Ruse with one from her series; Someone’s got to love the child, called Bad Man, sadly a subject close to everyone’s hearts these days – the moon, an all night witness glares, then rolls its eyes away. Powerful stuff.
Dave Reeves gave us not only poetry – he brought along his squeeze box and made wonderful use of it accompanying a sad tale about waiting for the phone to ring on New Year’s Eve with his melodic, doleful and sonorous chords. He introduced us to black country vernacular and recited a Haiku for 2012, containing only one word, by the third line we all joined in… RAIN! We heard one about a young philatelist who progressed to working in a (machine) STAMP shop, accompanied by STAMPING feet, and ended on a ‘found’ poem using items requested for in libraries. Hugely entertaining.
Julie Boden, Poet in Residence at the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra treated us to a few from her latest collection, Love in Leamington and also sang for us! She did not, her opener, was a wistful take on love, followed by a ronda redoublé and a villanelle, very much in fine form, and ending on The Piano Tuner, a poem banned by the orchestra committee (for being too???), told from the point of view of the piano, it was both evocative and provocative for he (the piano tuner) spoiled her for life (…)
Break. Beer. Chat. And all that.
Jonathan Taylor introduced the second half with a reading of a tender poem about his father, which I really related to, telling of vintage dinky toys collected over years and later sold. His dad was saddened by the revelation and we have a sense of a greater loss in the line; I could never get them, or those WH Smiths afternoons back again.
Roy Marshall opened the open-mic with a couple of lovely seasonal offerings. Stand out line – horses (…) standing in a cloud of breath. Would love to get a read of these. Then we had Dave, and his cat, Shindig regular Kim Lyson, Matt Merritt with his condensed take on ancient mythology, oh and me somewhere amidst all that.
Jayne Stanton. It was very lovely to enjoy an extended reading of Jayne’s poetry. I heard some I’ve heard before, Tasseography being one of my favourites and Heat, then a couple of very new offerings, the titles of which were their first lines and I was listening so intently I forgot to jot them down, and we ended on a couple that Jayne has written since her exchange with The Cork Poets. These two were particularly good. Blow-in, about a heron/crane and Sin É (think that’s how it’s spelt, although I don’t know what it means… about music and the magical way it affects. I’ve since learned that this poem has been highly commended in The Gregory O’Donoghue Prize. Well done! And deservedly so. A fine poem. I look forward to being able to post a pic of Jayne’s book/pamphlet cover alongside a review. It’s only a matter of time.
Last up, David Clarke. Amongst other stuff, I learned that a hee-haw is an eighteenth century rent-boy. That will one day come in useful. I can feel it in my bones. On the strength of his reading I bought his pamphlet, so that must tell you something? Gaud, joint winner of the Flarestack pamphlet competition, and I can see why. I particularly enjoyed Copse – (…) scarred by after-mages of epilated bodies splayed for the camera’s glassy eye (…) though I must confess, I jotted down the title in my notebook as – Cops. And I’ve since fallen in love with the rest. From Scritti Politti: (…) that’s what the 90″s felt like – green Gartside’s forgotten voice shimmied from a tape (…)
And on my way home I got into my car, scrolled through the iPod and had a listen.
Yes. I was back there. And it’s an excellent pamphlet too.
A brilliant night as always. Thanks to all involved. 02-13
Lindsay is a fashion designer turned writer whose poetry and short stories have been widely published. This review first appeared in her blog: http://lindsaywallerwilkinson.com/about-me/
Shrewsbury Coffee House, Castle Gates, Shrewsbury
There was not a table or chair to be had. The stock of china cups and mugs was exhausted. A warm mist appeared on the inside of the windows obscuring the curious glances from passers-by, late-comers stood.
The occasion? The first birthday of Poetry at the Coffeehouse, whose genesis I witnessed with a dozen or so enthusiastic kindred spirits in 2012 and whose imaginative format and strong bill has enabled the event to prosper and grow.
That growth and success has been led by Liz Lefroy whose vision, dedication and commitment has been richly rewarded, she still greets all visitors personally as old friends. Those that are not, soon become so.
A birthday party warrants something special. Liz’s address book ensured this was achieved with two local writers supporting a duo of eminent London based writers, continuing the house policy of bringing fresh talent to the Borders.
Opening the evening we heard Ludlow based Jean Atkin (pictured left) who read from her new collection, The Dark Farms (Roncadora Press 2012), which focuses on the Galloway Forest Park, a remote and marginal region of shrinking agriculture, depopulated glens and extraordinarily dark skies. Jean Atkin is a previous winner of the Ravenglass Poetry Prize and the Torbay Prize. Her other pamphlets are The Treeless Region and Lost At Sea (shortlisted last year for the Callum Macdonald Memorial Prize). She worked on The Dark Farms for eight months during 2011, walking the Forest, talking to residents and reading old books and maps. Its tone is wistful, and elegiac. She describes the lonely, majestic landscape with the eye of someone in love with the place, for her a “hoverfly hesitates”. In so doing the significance, or insignificance , of humanity inevitably comes to the fore and was wonderfully explored in her strongest piece of the evening, “What’s Human?”
Jack Edwards (pictured left) runs “Notes From the Underground” at the Holly Bush pub in Cradley Heath; he is also a performance poet of burgeoning repute. Looking more like the late Marc Bolan every time I see him his gentle humour and relaxed delivery are always underpinned by a strong central idea and good writing. His poem titles are an intrinsic part of his poems, not an afterthought.
In “ I Don’t Have The Cash to Take You to France” he won over the audience as a love poem before he even embarked upon the first verse. Although Jack is happier comparing love to a kebab, rather than a rose, his favoured sonnet form demonstrated an astute mix of contemporary imagery with traditional form, which he visited to particular effect in his ghazal, “Leaves”.
In the provinces we have a healthy suspicion of London poets, some of whom regard travel, and poetry, beyond the Underground network with bewilderment.
Julia Bell (Pictured below right) and Rosie Shepperd
are not in that mould and shared the headline spot to great effect.
Their visit was a delight.
Julia is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London and wrote, and co-edited, the bestselling Creative Writing Course book while working at the University of East Anglia, which is also published by Macmillan.
Born in Bristol but raised in Wales she has had two novels published for young adults – Massive and Dirty Work, both published by Macmillan in the UK. In the US Massive is published by Simon and Schuster and Dirty Work by Walker Books. Massive has also been translated into ten languages, including Thai.
Two things immediately struck me about Julia’s work. The first was the apparent profound effect of her childhood spent as the daughter of a vicar whose religious devotion bordered on the extreme. The second was her considerable ability to speak and write plainly and effectively, eschewing high literary artifice.
She is currently working on a memoir in verse with a
working title of Hymnal from which she read extensively. Her
humour shone through in her voicing of Martha from the Bible- “It will
take a miracle to get this done in time”. Her coming of age piece, The
Wallpaper I Outgrew, brilliantly evoked the universal poignancy of
transition from childhood to adulthood. It was Unhappy Clappy
that proved to be her signature poem from Hymnal, a withering
tirade cleverly juxtaposed to its subject matter.
Sharing the stage with Julia, Rosie Shepperd (Pictured below) offered a complimentary counterpoint. Studying for a PhD in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Glamorgan University, her work has appeared in magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. She was a finalist in the inaugural Manchester Poetry Prize, the Ware Poetry Prize and the Café Writer’s.
She won the 2007 Writer’s Inc. Bursary, the 2009 Ted Walters/Liverpool University Prize and was a winner in the Poetry Business Competition, her current collection, That So Easy Thing, is published by Smith/Doorstep which includes generous endorsements from Carol Ann Duffy and Phillip Gross. Her instantly authentic pronunciation of “parapluie” was the clue to her mother’s place of birth in French Mauritius, her urbane internationalism far more evident in That so-easy thing.
Thematically Rosie’s material was wildly eclectic; a silk umbrella, the difficulties that sudden death poses when arranging one’s own funeral, insomnia and an overheard brutal condemnation by a mother of her own overweight son in Lump.
What united them all was a fierce intellect, quirky off beat observation, and compassionate humanity served with lashings of acerbic wit. Reading, she pauses to telling effect, teasing the audience with what might come next, goading them to fill in the spaces for themselves. Her verse is always economic, and littered with memorable imagery, I loved the idea of an “acreage of shoe cupboard” in her insomnia poem. She made poetry seem like that so-easy thing, which it was to listen to, but undersells the craft of its composition.
Shrewsbury was fortunate to lure such distinguished talent and Liz promises more as the year unfolds, Coffeehouse Poetry next plays on March 7th, 7.30pm start, free entry.02-13
Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton Book Launch
Swindon Open Mic
Swindon Central Library
THIS was a wonderful evening of poetry, storytelling and live music at Swindon Central Library organised and hosted by Hilda Sheehan and Matt Holland from Swindon Artswords and Michael Scott, Chair of BlueGate Poets.
The first half was an open-mic session and in the second half Cristina read from her book, Cry Wolf, which is the winner of Templar Publishing’s 2012 Straid Poetry Collection Award.
Cristina also performed flamenco songs, sometimes accompanied by the accomplished acoustic guitar duo, Gilmore n’ Jaz, who also provided great music while people gathered with wine and festive chocolates at this informal, café event.
Swindon Artswords, which organises and provides Literature Development for Swindon Borough Council, has this to say about Cristina’s work: “Cristina first published two full-length collections - La Frontera and Rutas de Largo Recorrido - in her native Spanish language, with work also included in several anthologies.
“Her poems have appeared in journals and been shortlisted or have been runners-up at Bridport, Strokestown, Gregory O’Donoghue, Aesthetica and Nottingham. She won the Poetry London Competition 2011 with her poem Edison Peña Runs the Six Miles.
“She organises the Battered Moons Poetry Competition, now in its third year, supported by the Swindon Festival of Literature and Artswords. She is also involved in adult education, workshops and performances of poetry and flamenco jondo singing. “
I did not know Cristina’s work before this event, although I loved her poem Edison Peña Runs the Six Miles, the imagined story of one of the trapped Chilean miners, which Paul Farley chose as the 2011 Poetry London winner.
And, by coincidence, Cristina had sent me her stunning poem, Kissing, for my poetry blog, And Other Poems, a poem which, to date, has received, by far, the greatest number of views and which was described on Twitter by George Szirtes as “gorgeous” and by John Siddique as a “beautiful, global, holy poem”.
It was a joyful privilege to hear Cristina read, and sing, with passion and exuberance. Her poems, as described on the flyleaf of her new book, give voice to “the trapped miner, the locked up dissenter, the downtrodden people, the family of the dying and the dead, the hungry body, the thirsty soul, the mother robbed of her child, the abused child.” Templar Publishing and the judges of the Straid Award have chosen well.
This was a superbly run and extremely welcoming evening. I will definitely be going to a Swindon Open-Mic event again and will take a poem or story to read next time. Thank you to Hilda, Matt, Michael and, especially, Cristina, for making all of this possible.
Josephine lives in Wiltshire, teaching Creative Writing in places of Higher and Adult Education, and runs Writing Workshops in community settings including schools. A published poet, her work has been broadcast on BBC Radio Four, a she blogs regularly at: http://josephinecorcoran.wordpress.com/about-2/
42 Flashes at 42
Drummonds, The Swan With Two Nicks, New St, Worcester
42 IS A monthly event which focuses on the Gothic, Horror, Sci fi, and Fantasy genres in prose and poetry at one of the oldest, and most atmospheric , pubs in Worcester, The Swan With Two Nicks.
This month was given over to the emerging Flash Fiction form which the Worcester Literary Festival has done much to help promote. The objective being to perform over forty two flash fiction pieces at the eponymous event, a neat idea, and one which attracted a sizeable, and eminent audience.
So what is flash fiction? A short story with a limited word count. Tonight, the limit was three hundred words per story, a limit which is becoming format defining for competition and performance. They can be shorter. Although in principle they could also be longer, clearly all submissions for any event or competition need to be written to a uniform limit to give the exercise credibility and value.
My personal preferred writing milieu is poetry, but I entered and performed one piece for the evening myself in order that I could understand the mechanics of what I was to review. What most impressed me was how every word had to count, work, and earn its place in the story. The word count is sufficiently long to tell a story in, but the skills normally applied to an extended narrative are amplified, tested and stretched.
As I watched others perform I identified three types of story. The first was a simple observation, more than a story, which was stretched out to met the word count. The second was a bigger story that was condensed and cropped. The third was a story crafted to match the form. On the night, there was no restriction on themes, which were diverse in the extreme, in turns funny, sad, thoughtful and whimsical.
Three performers spearheaded the evening artistically, the most distinguished of whom was Callum Kerr, director , and instigator of, National Flash- Fiction day and managing editor of Gumbo Press. Also a lecturer in Creative Writing at Winchester University, Callum read extensively from Braking Distance , a collection of linked flash-fictions written in November 2011 as part of flash365. All the stories, set in a motorway service station, provide different perspectives of the same event. Clever, concise and inspired, he set a formidable standard.
Local luminary Lyndsay Stanberry-Flynn runs hugely popular creative writing workshops, having previously worked full time teaching English, and is an award winning author. A driving force and judge behind last year’s inaugural Worcester Literary Festival Flash –Fiction competition, she was on hand to strut her own meticulously crafted flash fiction whilst encouraging and cajoling others. On Sunday 9th December, at 4pm, the Flash Fiction anthology from writers in the first WLF Flash Fiction competition will be launched, with readings, at this venue.
Reigning WLF Flash Fiction Champion, and Warwick Words Flash fiction champion , Amy Rainbow was on hand to demonstrate her champion credentials and did so in customary style with two pieces, the malevolent and taut Childs Play and The Prison.
It was fascinating watching the other forty seven pieces unfold ( the odd one being mine!) and a number of common denominators emerged. Prose, read from a static position needs to be performed. Math Jones exemplified this with his animated and modulated rendition of Sign Up. A strong opening line is vital to grab the audience’s attention, Rod Griffiths did exactly this with his two playful pieces about the problems that Zombies have aided by an ingenious i-phone/i-pad combination which enabled a teleprompt facility- technology which worked! A story which grips the imagination so that the audience buys into the proposition is invaluable.
Alan Durham did just that with Figurehead, the tale of rough justice for a thief at a shipyard based upon Alan’s own working experience. That idea can be comic, as Tony Judge demonstrated with the Sociopath Olympics, amongst the funniest pieces of the night. The quick-fire conveyor belt of performer and performance means that readers have to pedal very hard to create an identity for themselves, and their story ,as quickly as possible. Catherine Crosswell delievered that in performing The Crime Scene, her witty, and fey, introduction the perfect appetiser for the main course. Words fifty four and fifty six lived up to their advanced billing!
Andrew Owens hosted the evening with charm, and a light touch, shepherding the burgeoning performance roster with a wet nose and an occasional nip at the heels. Congratulations are also due to Geoff Robinson whose original idea it was, and who did much to realise the evening’s success. “42” returns to the same venue on Wednesday January 30th, 2013, 7.30pm. 11-12
Metro Cafe, Bilston
“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew,” a description borrowed from Mathew 7, but just as apposite to WV14 on Thursday night as a storm of Biblical proportions lashed the Black Country with the savagery and intensity of a slave drivers whip.
Inevitably roads became impassable under water, and those caught outside were drenched, reducing the normally fulsome attendance a little this November night. Yet those undaunted by adversity outside were rewarded with a typically entertaining evening’s fare inside.
A double header of Malvern talent opened the evening commencing with the sartorially distinctive John Xavian who revelled in teasing the audience regarding the solemnity or satire of his work. Assuming the demeanour of an eccentric Doctor Who he in turn played to the eccentricities of Tom Baker, whilst also offering the reassuring gravitas of a Jon Pertwee. Whether eulogising The seed of the Sunrise, or an addiction to doughnuts, he engaged and entertained in equal measure.
Fellow Malvernian Myfanwy Fox is an accomplished poet, and photographer, who never seems to perform as often as her talent demands. Her pastiche of Hilaire Belloc’s Tarantella about Rebekah Brookes continues to be her party piece, witty, well-crafted and waspish. Belloc inspired Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd to write Mathilda’s Mother based upon Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, Myfanwy continues a fine and honourable tradition.
Unusually, host Emma Purshouse had invited singer songwriter Alex Vann to perform an acoustic set, accompanied by guitar to provide variety for the evening, and he did just that in some style. Appleside Cafe was his strongest song with his vocal sound very similar to Graham Nash and the song structure itself similar to Crosby Stills and Nash’s epic Suite; Judy Blue Eyes. The genre is an increasingly difficult one to excel in with the likes of Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Cohen and more recently Craig David having set the standard so high. Alex had a good go at providing a 21st century twist.
After the break there was a change of Calcutts, the billed Helen being replaced by her father David who promoted his new book on the legends of Robin Hood, entitled Robin Hood, illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith. He read the hangman’s tale, a representation which was warm and affectionate to the tradition.
Although suitable for children, it will strike a chord with anyone whose childhood was influenced by books on Robin Hood, the films starring Errol Flynn, or numerous television series. David is good at myths and legends and his language and delivery is quintessentially English and credible, so much so that I half expected Friar Tuck to appear at the door to take refuge from the rain soaked forest.
Headlining the evening was local boy made good Richard Tyrone Jones performing as part of his nationwide tour of Big Heart his show about (his) heart failure- but with jokes. His delivery is frenetic, his black humour all-encompassing. A varied set did venture beyond his near death experience to his relationship with Tories and Wheel Clampers, both of which are somewhat unsatisfactory.
More acerbic than lyrical, he carves a fairly distinctive niche on the current performance scene. His delivery is pacier than the similarly laconic Byron Vincent, but eschews the chiming rhyme of Polar Bear.
Bilston Voices next meets on Thursday Jan 24th
at 7.30pm when Tom Wyre will be amongst the featured poets. 11-12
The Old Cottage Tavern, Burton-upon-Trent
SPOKEN Worlds was celebrating both its third anniversary, and the last session of the 2012 calendar this month.
The event, and organiser Gary Carr, have much to be proud of. The forced change from the original venue has worked, and the event is now an established fixture at the Old Cottage tavern.
Local writing group the Runaway Writers form part of the regular core of poets, and a talented outer circle of performers drop in as they are able from as far afield as Lichfield, Chesterfield and Buxton.
One regular whose absence was acutely felt was that of Mal Dewhirst indisposed through a health scare from which all wish him a speedy recovery.
All forms of spoken word are encouraged and tonight there were examples of song, flash fiction and storytelling as well as poetry. Rob Stevens, host of Buxton’s Word Wizards was the man with the guitar, his songs are notable for their clever lyrics and thoughtful rhymes and provided a useful aural counterpoint to proceedings.
Ray Jolland is a man whose voice requires no musical accompaniment and his Beatles pastiche of All the Lonely People took in references to many of Spoken Worlds regular performers, and was warmly received .
Ian Ward read two flash fiction pieces, Bumping on Boundaries and Farmhouse Murder, the first of which sounded as though it had its roots in Netherville, the second of which suffered slightly from character nomenclature which became confusing when spoken, which may not have been so apparent on the page.
Ian’s imaginative writing always demands attention. Storytelling in longer fashion is something that Margaret Torr has been exploring with increasing frequency, The Unluckiest Man in the World was a worthy addition to her storytelling cannon.
Any evening depends upon fresh voices, as much as familiar ones ,for its success and tonight there were two debutantes. Christine Binding tackled nuclear war with On This Side, a subject littered with cliche traps which Christine circumnavigated very successfully. From Lichfield Poets came new member Sharon Lightwood who read assuredly two untitled poems about children, parents and growing up.
Spoken Worlds next meets on Friday 18th January, 2013 at 7.30pm. All welcome, free entrance, sign up on the night.
Little Venice, St Nicholas St, Worcester
Parole Parlate was celebrating its second birthday, and did so in some style. Organising Spoken Word Events is hard work. To create, build and sustain a monthly event over two years is quite an achievement.
It is testimony to the creativity, endeavour and persistence of organisers Lisa Ventura and Martin Driscoll, together with lens man Geoff Robinson, in particular. They in turn have been helped by a diverse local talent pool, and an artistic hinterland which pulls from many miles beyond.
The basic formula is simple. The venue is the private first floor of a friendly Italian restaurant, Little Venice, with its own bar and toilet facilities and around ten slots an event which are filled in advance by a combination of organiser invitation and aspiring performer plea !
A “poets' special" menu before the main event has become a popular pre-performance destination for many, with poetry talk, friendship and good food all available in abundance.
Mike Alma opened proceedings with an assured trio of poems moving from Petrification through Rainbow Butterfly and ending in the rhyming slang of The Temporary Bookseller. It was an auspicious start. Short storytelling as performance is tough.
With no rhyming possible and a narrative to tell holding an audience’s attention is difficult and flash fiction has sought to capitalise on the skills which this form requires. Fortunately Andrew Owens is good at it. Fate or Destiny was a touching condensed tale of junior school romance, Thirty Seconds, claustrophobic story of a child lost on a shopping trip. Word and Sound is an alternative Worcester poetry event and it was at the last one that I first came across Claire Walker who reads with a fey, easy going confidence, her subjects typically being little things illuminating big things.
Yet there is an edge to her too. In her story of the love addiction to men of a woman she intones “I collect them,” in a manner as sinister as Hannibal Lecter ever conjured.
Closing the first half was Ruth Stacey who performed a bold and imaginative sequence entitled The Fox Boy. Densely layered, it borrows from the Red Indian of North America tradition of using animal characters that are half animal/half human to explore existence. It is no twee anthropomorphic jaunt.
Ambitious in intent, it is an invocation to break out of the restrictions of our own skin to explore beyond. Cleverly, the device of transcending the confines of that skin embraces mixed ethnicity too- “skin is just a covering, to keep the flesh tidy and the heart, in place”. It was very well received and proved that challenging, serious poetry can be performed out loud and succeed.
After the break Amanda Bonnick read from a travelogue sequence in Ireland, set against the backdrop of a doomed relationship and a tribute to her father who died in a plane crash in Borneo when she was a child. Both combined a wonderful sense of place juxtaposed with the intensely personal. Before the headliner we were treated to an ensemble performance from “The Poets in the Mist” including Suz Winspear, Liz Hayden Jones, Math Jones, Catherine Crosswell, Polly Robinson Mike Alma and Sarah Kemp. Catherine’s typically left field poem on ice cream, at a kiosk by the British Camp was a delight amongst several strong offerings.
Stephen Morrison- Burke, AKA Mstr Morrison, was
recently installed as Birmingham Poet Laureate but cut his early teeth
performing at Parole Parlate some eighteen months ago. Visually he cuts
a hip, trendy contemporary dash, poetically, he writes soulful,
reflective emotive poems. His manifesto is to provide a voice for the
dispossessed, the unheard voices, and succeeds in that aim, most notably
with his signature piece, April’s Eyes, about a child in care.
Performing his set rehearsed, without notes, he stretches out a handful
of pieces, twisting every last nuanced emotion of each piece with wry,
affecting lyricism, delighting all. 11-12
Parole Parlate next meets at 7.30pm on Thursday, December 6th.
Café Metro, Bilston
After so many months of our performers only bringing us poetry, it was a pleasure to have stories as part of the evening, October’s instalment of this monthly event. Variety is very much the spice of life and we got good variety for this event from a mix of BV regulars.
Ronnie Davies started the evening with a charming rambling story of a family in wartime who, helped by the neighbours, decided to raise a pig as a way of eking out rations. His descriptions of the being transported home in a sidecar ,and its adventures when it escaped, were very funny.
Jill Tromans opened with a comic poem about plastic surgery before going into story mode with a tale of a keeper at the zoo and a family visiting on a day trip. She was then joined by Sylvia Millward for a short two handed sketch about two women, one of whom was a bit posh, talking about a book the other was reading, which led to a few double entendres before revealing that the book was Harry Potter.
Last up before the obligatory ‘cake break’ was Peter Hill with his hilarious version of why Black Country people probably have Viking blood in their veins. He started with the Battles of Wednesfield and Tettenhall and brought us up to the modern day via his own route. The audience laughed their way through to the end of the first half.
The second half was opened by the popular Brendan Hawthorne, who had dashed over from Wednesbury, where he was compering a show. After giving us his poem, Retrosexual, about his rebellion against the things that are now expected of modern man.
He followed this with The parking ticket, a little tale about a man who decided to give up his car and use a horse, but got into trouble when he went shopping and got distracted by a few pints of beer. The old favourites Spicing up Your Life, Tank Top Warfare and the Retirement Speech of a Black Country Ventriloquist, which he gave us next, never fail to raise a chuckle and delivered once again . As he dashed off back to Wednesbury, we had a full dress version of Sotnev, Brendan’s own Black Country version of satnav.
There was a semi musical end to the evening, as
Dave Reeves brought out his accordion to serenade us with his
September Pastorale about a man with a metal detector and
Newcomen Memorial Waltz (dedicated to the Newcomen beam engine).
After telling us about the last Victorian mental institution in
Shrewsbury, he mused on the way words can be misinterpreted in his
Toad Paradox. A recent visit to Wales had inspired
Whilst arranging flowers at a graveside before we came back to the
Black Country with Ayli Quixote and Sancho Panza, a tale based
on the novel by Cervantes. To finish off ,we took a ride, or would
have had the train been on time, on The Old Wuss and Wuss,
otherwise known as the Oxford and Worcestershire railway. 10-12.
Bilston Voices next meets on Thursday 22nd November, 7.30pm start.
Eileen Ward- Birch
Imperial Banqueting Suite, Bilston
Imperial variety nights have gained a reputation of a good night out with the advantage that the curry that would end many such nights is served on the premises during the interval.
Naomi Paul, no stranger to the people who regularly attend Bilston Voices, was our comedy compere for the night, giving us a good few chuckles between acts and encouraging lots of applause. A big well done for holding it together so well, especially when we had a change of acts partway through.
First on was Kieren King, winner of the 2012 Bilston Love Slam, a poetry competition that puts the slam into poetry. Kieren was billed as Poetry with a heavy metal attitude and he did not disappoint, telling us in poetic form about life as a young man who is also a heavy metal fan (although he does not look like one), and life in general. I had a few doubts about putting the poet on first, but he proved to be a superb warm up.
Fizzog Theatre Company, based at Newhampton Arts Centre, is one of the funniest acts we have seen in years. For the Imperial we were treated to Wayne Kerr (Jacky Fellows) and his new partner Dolly Mixture, who he met at the X-factor auditions in Brum, with a rap that had people laughing so much some of us at the back missed a few of the lyrics, but it didn’t matter, as Wayne and Dolly were so funny visually. I want to adopt Wayne and Dolly.
After the curry break, we had a few contemplative moments with Kate Wragg from Kidderminster, who has obviously been out and about round her town and has definite views on its beauty. Kate accompanied her striking Joan Baez style singing with a well-played guitar.
The hilarious Our Trace, standing in for no-show impressionist Cal Halbert, took us up to the second break. She had asked us how far she could go on a scale of one to ten and having got a response that eleven would not be unacceptable, her act was lively and very, very funny. We were left wondering if her ‘bloke’ found his rake. Many thanks to Trace for standing in at the last minute.
The top of the bill was Les Bubb, a kind of Mr Bean on speed with some speech. To convey the speed and variety of Les’s act in words is a somewhat daunting task, but I will say that from the moment he appeared from behind the curtain which conceals an upper floor of the Imperial and got tangled in the rope designed to keep people out to the time he packed his suitcase and left there were gales of laughter throughout the room. I was particularly impressed by his Marcel Marceau style mimes performed with said suitcase and some balloons .
Eileen Ward- Birch
Café Metro, Bilston
There must be something about Bilston, this was the second event in a week where one of the acts failed to arrive.
Fortunately, in both cases Emma Purshouse was organising and managed to overcome the problem. In this case, she moved the performance list around and started with readers giving samples from the new Made in Bilston CD, which was being launched later in the evening.
Thus it was that we started our evening with a light hearted piece be Carol Howarth about Noah’s ark and how the unicorn got left behind, Next was Andy Moreton with his humorous verses on Nigel – a moth. The launch ended with Peter Hill’s Blast furnace lament, which struck a chord with Bilstonians, who still often lament the loss of the steel making industry.
Marion Cockin presented an unusual set, opening with a verse piece which led into her version of the story of Daedalus, who was reputed to be an Athenian said to have invented many things, including a wooden cow that enabled the Queen of Crete to mate with a white bull and the maze which imprisoned the result of that mating – the Minotaur. Marion came full circle with a nicely rounded set of verses.
Last up before the ‘cake break’ was Bert Flitcroft, a BV virgin, who read to us a selection from his new book. His first was a poem about how the Universe is held together with love. He followed on with Equilibrium, about opposites attracting and a (very appropriate for the Café) sonnet to a bacon sandwich. Bert is obviously inspired by his holidays, as we also had a very nice poem about Loch Ness and (my personal favourite) Flying club about a holiday at the Buxton Palace Hotel, which was shared with a pigeon flyers outing.
Roger Noons, a BV and City Voices regular, opened the second half with his take on early Bilston history as a village that developed into the home of heavy industry. The remainder of his set covered a diversity of subjects from his first visit to the theatre, to see a gilbert and Sullivan operetta, a dotura plant, the colour yellow and boots and shoes. However, my favourite was a poem that struck a real chord about being a big man and so not being treated the same as others of similar age when growing up and how those attitudes stick. Roger must be a big fan of Café Metro, because he even ended with a limerick to the cake.
Kate Walton, a Lichfield poet and BV virgin, rounded the evening off with her narrative poetry. She started with a mythical series of deaths in the Melton Mowbray pie factory, then went on to tell the tale of a young man who went out at night killing car drivers to hijack their vehicles, until the night his long suffering lady (who knew what he did) turned the tables on him. Finally, in Beauty bound, she told the tale of young love and how it changes as we grow older, not always together. Kate’s performance was spellbinding throughout and I would gladly listen to any of her works again. 09-12
Spark Cafe, Lichfield
Poetry Alight at the Spark Cafe at Lichfield is one of my personal favourite events. The quality of the invited poets is as good as any I have attended, the open mic slots are filled by many of my favourite poets from East and West Midlands, but the atmosphere is open, friendly and supportive enough for new readers not to feel intimidated.
This Tuesday was no exception. There was a diversity of styles, ages and experience that retained and revitalised the listener's interest across the whole evening.
In reviewing the evening I will attempt to give a flavour of this, any mis-quotes, mis-spellings or other mistakes are entirely mine.
Our host, Gary Longden, kicked the night off in style with From Stratford to Stratford, a well balanced piece about his Olympic journey from ambivalence about the event to enthusiasm. He was followed by incoming Staffordshire Laureate Mal Dewhirst with an extract from his epic All sides of the shire, which will be performed in full at his inauguration on 4th October at Lichfield library. Mal also explained a little about his ideas on the role of the laureate.
Jayne Stanton, a regular at many events in the Midlands and recently returned from a poetry exchange visit to Cork, gave us two short pieces. The first, a slightly surreal piece about holes, gave us the wonderful view that "If holes cannot exist without a host/then that makes them parasites
The next two readers, Dwane Reads and Mark Anthrobus are from opposite ends of the experience spectrum, but both gave us social commentaries. Dwane's Druggie on the roof is a well observed slice of estate life based on a real incident, while Mark gave us poems on food additive addiction and social ostracism.
Known for his gothic fantasy pieces, Ian Ward initially gave us a lighter piece Meeting Mr. Neville, with a very literal interpretation of the Faustian deal that TV talent show competitors enter into, before returning to his darker roots in the second piece.
The first guest poet of the night was Roy Marshall, who read mainly from his collection, Gopagilla. His set was a tour de force of short snappy slices of life, eleven poems in ten minutes. Favourites? Gopagilla, Rose, Dandytime which contains the wonderful lines "His gift to me,/ the long forgotten tempo/ of a boy's life", Relic and No signals available which begins with the phrase "The sky is unmanned".
Closing the first section, Deborah Tyler-Bennett managed the difficult task of following Roy with aplomb. Tahiti is a poetic travelogue and more; Tell Me, from a sequence about London's ghosts, paints a misty and evocative picture of the city and Jimmy and Steph - a reunion of the couple from Quadrophenia many years after the events in the film.
Deborah also showed her lighter side with Horse and himself about the 19th century's "maddest man in Britain", Me and Mr Smith based on an 18th Century "Gentleman's Annual" about London whorehouses and Cheerful revisited which is a tribute to Ian Dury's song; a rhyming list poem with many references to Dury's other song lyrics.
Paul Francis kicked off the second section in style with Screws, a wonderful and satirical piece about Sunday scandal sheets and the Leveson enquiry. First timer Lucy Beth followed with three untitled angst filled poems, the last of which had the memorable lines "We are 60% water. Mine has been salted/ and pushed from behind blackened lashes".
Experience again came to the stage with Penny Hewlett, whose second poem Bostar beach was a beautiful sonnet set on the Isle of Lewes, which became a meditation on aloneness at the turn.
Chesterfield poet Tony Keeton, introduced as a master of the surreal, did not disappoint. His first poem, Fly tipping, was a study of drunken student spiders on a night out, tipping a fly onto its back. His second, a tribute to Neil Armstrong, contained one of the most vivid images of the night "the stained-glass Earth turning, solid as a thought, against the sun". Tony is one of the best kept secrets of the Derbyshire poetry scene and deserves a much wider audience.
David Calcutt had requested a slightly longer spot than the normal three minutes to perform Tears for Achilles. Lichfield poets duly obliged and we were treated to a five minute meditation on, in order, the ecstasy of killing, the metamorphosis of death, destruction as a measure of godhead and the vulnerability that drives the ultimate soldier. A beautiful and well crafted poem and performance.
David was followed by the final two guest poets. On first, Emma Purshouse, organiser of Bilston Voices open mic. Emma gave us comedy of a quality that reminds an audience the abbreviation lol has a real meaning. Introducing herself with the short, sharp observation of Welcoming the poet and continuing with The art school and your picnic is always the same faces a list poem of artists "William Blake had baked a special kind of cake", observing that there were no women amongst the artists taught at school. No subject was too odd to be tackled, from Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway on Jeremy Kyle, using only quotes from the bard, through how picking up butts can get you into hot water, to Jumpers for frogs.
Final guest Paul McDonald, a lecturer in creative writing, also picked on Shakespeare. Shakespeare is barred, is a list of the imagined problems he might cause, "I managed to shut him up before the skinheads closed in". He followed this with Tall story, about a girlfriend who starts growing at an exponential rate until "I live in her navel, now", continued with Catch a falling tortoise and finished with Loft Insulation about giving cold callers the order of a lifetime, including "... border seals, electric eels dreaming of hell".
The final section was a short finishing blast with just three poets. Janet Jenkins gave us two poems from her Dig the Abbey set, Off to the past and A nun's anguish. The latter a story of a buried nun disturbed by the digging and modern life's "iPods and ice cream, webcams and wellies".
Penultimate reader Tracey Owen runs an event in Stone, but was new to the Spark. Tracey read two poems, Look into your soul and a rousing Big fish, little fish, about a heavy night out in Stoke. Finally, Lichfield poet Tom Wyre gave a moving performance of his remembrance poem 11/11/11 and Timeslip, a love lost, or perhaps never found, poem of missed meetings.
The next Poetry Alight will be on 19th February 2013 at the Spark Cafe in Lichfield. 10-12
Gary Carr is the organiser of Spoken Worlds, a monthly spoken word event at Burton upon Trent
Western Pub, Leicester
THE formidable Shindig flexed its bi-monthly poetic muscles for its September offering hosted by the effusive Jane Commane, and the urbane Jonathan Taylor.
As is the custom, four diverse guest poets had been hand-picked, and an open mic of amongst the sharpest performers around miraculously assembled, along with Ezra Pound, of whom more later.
Jane could barely contain her excitement as the evening wore on. Jonathan was in fine form, not least in performing a poem about a Dolls House chez Taylor that hugely entertained, and is likely to have both Quentin Tarantino and Social Services knocking on his door.
The two guest poets for the first half had travelled from Gloucestershire, the first of whom was Daniel Sluman. I first saw Dan at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival alongside the considerable talents of Luke Kennard and Phil Brown, he comfortably held his own. I have recently been critical of some publishing houses whose output is narcissistic, inward looking and self –aggrandizing. Equally I have been critical of poets who see being published as an end in itself, and fail to support the publisher in promoting the work. Neither criticism would be true of Nine Arches Press, or Dan, whose talent deserves to be heard, and whose presence was testimony to his determination to reach an audience.
His performance, mainly from Absence has a Weight of its Own was assured and compelling, as the material itself is. Some is born out of, and borne by, personal triumph over adversity, but is never maudlin. He speaks to the reader of themselves, not of himself. His writing is concise and intense; “If you cleave me in two you will smell your perfume on my bones”. The absence theme, a haunting constant in a powerful set.
Angela France hosts Buzzwords, a highly successful poetry evening in Cheltenham and looked delighted to be able to stand in front of an audience and do her own thing rather than introduce others, that delight instantly communicated itself to the audience.
With Mallemaroking (the carousing of seamen on board Greenland whaling ships) she was playful, with her pastiche of Sunday Sport headlines which went on to be published by the same paper she was self-effacing, and with her Lightship Prize winning poem The Visit her poetic craft was plain for all to see.
Sarah Jackson is a senior lecturer in English and Creative Writing; Programme Leader, MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. Her debut poetry collection Pelt has won 10th place on the Guardian first book award long list 2012.
Her writing is a beguiling mix of the sensual, sinister and macabre, if she was a character in a horror film, she would certainly be the one to watch out for. Something rather unpleasant happened whilst a child was using the Red Telephone, and she revelled in the tale of The Ten o’clock Horses trading on a story told to frighten young children to bed and sleep in her village. She declared a fascination for submarines with their stealth, and desire to be unseen. That fascination with the unseen is an apt metaphor for her poetry.
Rory Waterman was born in Belfast, but grew up in rural Lincolnshire. With Nick Everett, he is the General Editor of New Walk Magazine, a new international journal for poetry and the arts. His studies, writing and publishing encompass an extensive range of themes, but tonight he was largely in reflective, retrospective family mode, most notably and effectively with Stranger when a small child asks, “Who are you?” However, it was the opening, West Summerdale Avenue, centred on the serial killer John Gacy, which showed him at his best.
"The sprinkler slashes its crest across your lawn and back again, and slashes its crest across and back again” The open mic slots were, as always, a delight. Bob Richardson’s trademark is to carry a bag with him on stage. With each successive appearance, the bag he brings becomes larger. Before long he will require a fleet of pantechnicons leaving the tour managers of the likes of Lady Gaga and the Rolling Stones in despair when Bob is on the road.
Many of us carry collections of our favourite poets with us, Bob carries their portraits too, hence his need for the large bag, and a lightning tour through Imagist luminaries Hilda Doolittle, Richard Adlington and Ezra Pound, the latter of whom then seemed to inspire several poets thereafter, with good cause. Bob rightly drew our attention to the debt that much modern poetry owes to the Imagist movement.
The regulars set their usual high standard. Kathy Bell’s completed sequence of Balance Sheets for Medieval Spinsters was satisfying, and accomplished. Amongst the new and less regular performers Becky Bird’s poem of a woman who exchanges one worn pair of sandals for identical new ones whilst sat at a Cafe was wry, sharp and well observed, Kim Featherstone’s graveyard poem lived up to his brash chutzpah. Yet the spirit of edge and enquiry which is synonymous with Shindig was best kindled by Roy Marshall before he performed:
“Between Harry’s bits and Kate’s tits can anyone
tell me whether Syria is fixed yet?” 09-12
Shindig next meets on Monday 19th November at the
great Western Public house, free in, 7.30pm.
Poetry@ The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse
I like living in Shrewsbury, and I like it more since The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse opened. As well as being an excellent café and meeting place, it provides a venue for music and words on a scale which feels democratic and authentic.
The Coffeehouse is located on busy Castle Gates, reported in 2011 as having some of the worst air quality in the country. This is surprising in some ways, as the town, with its medieval and black and white buildings, looping river and self-claimed subtitle: ‘Town of Flowers’, has the feel of a place with kinder air.
On Thursday night, the audience for the monthly Coffeehouse Poetry evening was treated to fine performances from Gary Longden and David Calcutt. It was only the ninth event in what has become a feature of the West Midlands / Borders poetry calendar and it was good to see newcomers in the audience as well as regulars.
Gary, who travelled from Birmingham, opened the evening in style with his unabashed poem, ‘Adultery’ which toys with our expectations and nervousness, describing changes in behaviour which arouse a partner’s suspicions. And the cause? The narrator’s obsessive attendance at poetry readings.
I suspect that there is a strong autobiographical element to this poem – Gary’s numerous reviews of poetry events across the Midlands is evidence of his not-so-secret and generous devotion. And he showed the necessary charm, acknowledging both audience and venue by featuring the Shrewsbury Coffeehouse as the backdrop for his next poem, The Affair.
Playfulness was a constant in Gary’s energetic set, delivered with a confidence which enabled the audience to relax and enjoy the words and (often double) meanings. His is a playfulness with a sharply witty edge – the vibrant Dead Pop Stars laments that ‘Rock and Roll death is not what it used to be’ and Going through the Wardrobe was nothing to do with Narnia, but everything to do with all the stereotypes linked to female insecurities about appearance. Whilst my inner feminist was stamping her feet, my outer woman was laughing in recognition as the pile of disappointing, and therefore discarded, clothes grew.
And this is one of Gary’s skills – to show us the common ground of assumptions and then to take us beyond them to make us recognise some other truth. This is the case with his more serious poems as well. A particular favourite for me was Loose Change, a tribute to coinage pre-decimalisation, when tanners, farthings and half-crowns were ‘always a name, never a number.’ Gary rightly observes that our new coins have acquired no such names.
In all, then, a set which showed a poet with an exceptional range, from beautiful and haunted lines – ‘sometimes swifts lean their heads to listen to the rising tide’ – to the downright colloquial but immaculately placed ‘Say cheese!’ in At the Charles Cotton Hotel. From ironic (I hope it was ironic …) confessions about a crush on Rebekah Brooks, to the sensitive exploration of the language of serious illness, all was delivered at pace and on time.
After the break, David Calcutt took the stage – which is interesting, because there is no stage to take. Unusually, and completely successfully, he began his set sitting down, and performed initially from memory. The Coffeehouse was busy, and in addition to street noises, the sound of cups and chatter from upstairs was a background reality. David created a sense of calm and intensity, a cocoon-like pod of drama.
Like Gary, he made the audience feel utterly confident in his performance, and any unsettling occurred through the power of his words. Simile and metaphor leapt into the room as ‘the sun rose like the barrel of a gun’. We were there in woods with him, could visualise Dead Badgers, ‘each one a nail driven flush into my head’. David’s pamphlet Road Kill, co-written with Nadia Kingsley and published by Fair Acre Press, which Nadia runs, is out in December, and I am looking forward to reading these poems, and more.
Next came two poems inspired by works in Walsall Art Gallery: The Enchanted Forest and Broken Children. The forest has ‘no way in except, perhaps, through the soul’s enchanted eye.’ Poems inspired by other works of art can be difficult to appreciate without the visual image that prompted them, but not in this case. These are stand alone works but nonetheless have made me resolve to make a long overdue visit to the gallery.
David is a playwright, novelist and poet, and has a strong list of publications for young people including Crowboy, Shadowbringer and The Map of Marvels, all published by OUP. His work is powerful and mystical, full of sharp imagery and quick-as-a-flash moments that touch something deeper.
David’s view of his work is that its seriousness is best expressed in free verse, and he is right, but the audience enjoyed a poem written the day before which uses rhyme entirely successfully. In contrast to the lighter mood evoked by rhyme was the beautifully wrought She is Trying to Get back to What She Was. Full of strength and stark imagery, not a word is wasted, nothing is easy or explained away; David’s technical skills are impressive.
A consummate performer, David entertained us with two speeches from a recent production of Robin Hood, a script which captures the tradition of Mummers plays but with a contemporary and West Midlands twist. Also produced with a flourish was Sister Dora’s speech from The Alchemist and the Devil, the second of the Bayard’s Colts Mummers Plays for Walsall, due to be performed in the town centre on Saturday 17th November.
Thanks to Gary and David for an enjoyable and inspiring evening - we hope to welcome them back to The Coffeehouse soon.
Next month, Thursday 11th October, is an
open mic (slots are currently full, but if you’d like to put your name
on the reserve list, or to read in future, please email Liz Lefroy
The following month on Thursday 1st November we welcome Emma
Purshouse, Nick Pearson and Jane Seabourne from Offa’s Press. 7.30
for 7.45pm. 09-12
Liz Lefroy Lectures at Glyndwr University, Wrexham, where she is a Senior Lecturer in Social Care. She has had two poetry pamphlets published, Pretending the Weather, in 2011 , The Gathering, in 2012, and won the 2011 Roy Fisher Prize for poetry. She hosts poetry at the Shrewsbury Coffee House, which meets monthly.
Poetry at the Abbey
Polesworth Abbey, Polesworth
“What is poetry?” is a question beloved of teachers, lecturers and workshop leaders. It invariably elicits myriad responses, each one a little less sure than the one just offered. It lies all around us in different forms, guises, and disguises.
A great goal at football is sometimes described as poetry, maybe a pop lyric, maybe a line from Tennyson. You know it when you see it, or hear it. It was certainly alive at Polesworth Abbey on Saturday afternoon.
On arrival I was greeted by Fr Philip in full clerical robe and high viz jacket, frankly, you can’t carry much more authority than that. On a blazing late summer’s day the Abbey and grounds were packed with a mixture of crowds who had spilled over from the village carnival and the many who had come to see the archaeological dig on its final weekend and listen to the poetry, which had been written as a parallel project.
It was a testimony to the emotional commitment that the poetry workshop leaders had to “Dig the Poetry” that all returned to see the climax and denouement of everyone’s efforts. David Calcutt, Jenny Hope, Matt Merritt, Jacqui Rowe, Maeve Clarke, Jo Bell and organiser Mal Dewhirst performed work they had written, as well as bask in the glow of appreciating work which their workshops had inspired. Furthermore, the omnipresent Tim Upson Smith, community archaeologist and tour leader decided to unleash his own poetry, a clever take on the classification of soil types to show that there was more to him than a shiny trowel and an Indiana Jones inspired hat.
In the grounds period displays of tile making, stone masonry and medieval firearms engaged a throng soaking up the sun and the atmosphere. Children gambolled, ladies wore floppy hats, and men wore unwise shorts – this is England. It was the dig which had inspired the poetry and it was wholly appropriate that the performance should have been held al fresco with the sights that had inspired the words all around us. Sat down on the lush grass the spoil heaps of disinterred earth overlooked an audience that was part of the physical and poetic landscape.
Thus, for ninety minutes an egalitarian procession of performance unfolded telling the rich story of the dig and the responses which it had evoked in the poets. David Calcutt captured the volksseele of the summer with Dig, it’s opening line, “And we are on our knees, Faces close to the ground, With earthworms,” an archaeological call to arms, as we surveyed the spoil soil and trenches around us. The eternally neanimporhic Jo Bell closed the day with her customary assured poetic spezzatura. Her poem, last, considering what will be left of us after we die, assuming an ethereal spiritual dimension in the shadow of the thousand year old Abbey.
“What is poetry?” it lies all around us in different
Havana Whites, Chesterfield
Not only was this my first visit to Spire Writes, but also my visit to Chesterfield. I was sufficiently inspired by Jo Bell’s glowing endorsement of host Helen Mort’s poetic credentials to make the effort to check out Spire Writes, and see what North Derbyshire had to offer. I was not to be disappointed.
Havana Whites is a trendy bar in the shadow of Chesterfield’s crooked church spire in the middle of the town, with car parking and the railway station close by. The “locals made good” list of any place always makes for fascinating reading. Chesterfield boasts the likes of Barbara Castle, Olave Baden Powell, wife of Robert, and former butler to Princess Dianna, Paul Burrell, as well as page three model Jo Guest, former Motorhead drummer Phil “Filthy Animal “ Taylor, and two of 80’s synth rock stars the Thompson twins. It’s an eclectic mix. Chesterfield throws up some interesting and diverse folk.
The format of the evening was of a headliner performing two sets, and a supporting bill of open mic poets. Helen hosts the night with a light hand on the tiller and quite clearly has poetic pull. A distinguished open mic crowd had assembled. Past guests have included Tony Walsh, next month’s are Helen Ivory and Martin Figura, but this month’s headliner was local hero Matt McAteer whom I was seeing for the first time.
Performing wholly rehearsed , his style is reminiscent of John Cooper Clarke, his acerbic social and political content travelling with Mark E Smith, both of whom he name checked. His presentation and content is strident performance, the composition subtle and nuanced, working a style similar to that of Polar Bear. An interesting quirk was that in several of the pieces, rhymes were not emphasised, so that aurally the listener was frequently playing catch up as the narrative raced ahead.
His first set was a sequence based around modern attitudes to art. ”If you say you’re an artist it’s art, if you don’t, it isn’t”. He opened with Charles Bukowski’s damning indictment of the mob, “The Genius of the Crowd”, a cover version if you like, a brave, confident and successful move, fortunately the proceeding original material was up to the job with Getting Kettled and Auto-Dictat particularly strong. The second set, although not sequenced, displayed an assured local identity, be it in remembering the defiance of the Clay Cross council in the 1970’s against the government, or most memorably, in a poem which drew together the only person from Chesterfield who fought and died in the Spanish Civil War and an imagined meeting with Alex from A Clockwork Orange. You had to be there!
The open mic roster were no makeweights. Stan Skinny runs the Shipping Forecast poetry night in Sheffield. School Disco was a mini overture, an object lesson in how to get the most out of one poem, funny, engaging, and with all present cringing at the accuracy of the observation. Current Derbyshire Poet Laureate Matt Black took inspiration from a taxi rank in an everyman piece that could have been anywhere, yet whose sense of place was a delight. Past Derbyshire Poet Laureate, River Wolton, read of her unexpected meeting with Gok Wan when she was “looking daggy” and “her shame at being ashamed “,which was both poignant and entertained. However it was” Psalm of those who go forth on the day of redundancy” which packed the visceral punch. Both were consummately crafted.
The rest? Dwane Reads railed against cod nationalism, Danny Tooher navigated the bypass, Dave Atrill warned us against the fag man in Sheffield, Alex Webster tackled employment at Remploy, Bob Roberts took us on a road trip through the Czech Republic, and Adam Morris questioned The Nature of Inspiration. Sadly there was no time for Helen Mort to perform herself.
A little gem of a venue and evening, Spire Writes next meets on Tuesday 9th October at 8pm, free in, with East Anglian luminaries Helen Ivory and martin Figura topping the bill. 09-12
Little Venice, Worcester
Two years on that hasn’t changed. I arrived an hour and a quarter early expecting to have a pizza on my own; instead I was greeted with a table full of old friends, and soon to be new ones.
It is an ideal setting, the downstairs Italian restaurant so suitable for pre-prandial chatter with literary minded folk, the upstairs a self-contained private area with its own bar and toilets. The bill is always a smorgasbord (to mix my culinary identities) of literary talent, this evening was no exception.
Lichfield Poet Ian Ward opened proceedings with a gentle, wistful set to ease us out of the summer holidays, neatly rounded off with Perfect Day. Damon Lord of Worcester Writer’s Circle read a very strong Notional Health Service and The Kid which I enjoyed despite the panning which he claimed some had previously given it, sometimes writers need to have the courage of their convictions. Euginia Herlihy's thoughtful spiritual poems clearly had substance, which will gain traction as she develops the projection of her delivery.
By contrast Christopher Kingsley was not lacking in projection. He prefaced his set by stressing that he was just starting out, but all the raw ingredients are there for a promising performing career. The material was diverse, humorous and bulging with ideas. Mutt about his inherited dogs, and Talking Balls about bureaucratic nonsense were particularly strong. Straight from the bandit country of South America Nick “Grizzly Adams” Turner delivered a very powerful prose extract from his adventures there with one of the best opening lines I have heard in a very long time.
Closing the first half was Spoz. Vastly experienced, Spoz knows the performing deal, and it always shows. Take a good idea, engage with the audience, work the idea hard, and the audience well, and then leave them wanting more. It is an effective blueprint. He read just one poem Without You, performed first in Italian and then in English, it was a great comic device. In lesser hands rhyming “Nessun Dorma” with “korma”, and “cough” with (David Hassel) hoff would be a disaster, in Spoz’s expert hands it is a triumph!
Under the Lone Night, published by Vanguard Press is the current collection by David Johnson whose selections included DNA inspired by the heritage of English Stately homes. David read well and I would like to have heard more. Polly Robinson is a luminary of the Worcester literary community and her writing whether prose, or poetry, is always worth listening to. Her poem of a tube ride on a sticky day with its onomatopoeia driven structure is very satisfying whilst Across the Timeless River, “ Five past six, light bright evening across the wrinkled river” does for the River Severn what Waterloo Sunset did for the Thames. Presenting short stories is no easy task. Andrew Owen used an innovative device with A Picture Tells a Thousand Words by bringing a graduation photo of himself, and then telling a story around it. It worked well as did his Facebook inspired Like Mother like Daughter. Jeremy Holtom finished the section before the headline act with an intriguing extended performance. It was a little like watching footage of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, one minute you were with him, the next you are in another cosmos.
Finally, I was honoured to perform a headline set as one half of The Imperfect Pair with Amy Rainbow, at which point Polly Robinson reports:
A packed house enjoyed the poetry and prose performed at Parole Parlate with the headline double act from Amy Rainbow and Gary Longden as The Imperfect Pair. Gary will be writing about everyone else on his blog, but I thought I'd add my two-penn'orth about Amy and Gary - if you haven’t yet seen their sparky poetry be sure to catch up with them soon! The brickbats and banter between the two of them had everyone in hysterics, we can all identify with the sentiments that these two practiced poets invoke. Their two central pieces, ‘The man who wears tweed’ from Amy and the riposte, ‘The girl who wears floral prints’ from Gary, were funny, poignant, alliterative and well rhymed.
Parole Parlate next meets on Thurs 4th October at 7.30pm. Polly Robinson blogs at: http://journalread.wordpress.com/
Metro Cafe, Bilston
August is a time when many people like to take holidays, but that didn’t prevent the regulars at Café Metro from turning out to see and hear the latest selection of Bilston Voices. Hosted by Emma Purshouse, this monthly event seems to go from strength to strength and if a few people are missing, we always have somebody drop by on an off chance to increase the numbers.
August’s event began with Ian Ward making his BV debut. Ian had obviously prepared well for the evening, with all his poems in one folder ready to read and timed to fit his allocated spot. He read an interesting collection of poems about love as seen from differing angles. I found the most outstanding of these were Katy Lied and Creation story. It is always interesting to hear from the Lichfield poets and Ian was no exception.
Retiring Wolverhampton Poetry Champion, Emily Oldham, who has been promoting poetry amongst young people across the city, was next to the centre stage. She started with a piece called Mirror, Mirror reflecting on attitudes. Amongst her other work was Orlando, which was inspired by Virginia Wolfe and to which she gave a new twist. I was most struck by her Paradise Lost contemplating the scene if God had a wife. Emily has the style of a very mature writer, despite her age.
Mike Tinsley is a very popular regular in Bilston with his quips and the way he can turn a hoary old joke into a short poem he always has the audience laughing. In Tight panic, we had a poem based on the story of the Titanic as part of his set of dialect poems, which also included the Rot catcher.
To round off, Mike got his ukulele out to perform a piece called Worms about an unpleasant medical condition, during which he encouraged us to join in the chorus. Mike is always guaranteed to leave his audience smiling and thus we went into the break.
After what is known in BV as the ‘cake break’, another writer familiar to BV audiences, Bob Hale began his set with River and Stones an environmental poem which has been accepted for inclusion in a new Offa’s Press anthology. Bob is currently teaching English in China, his works reflecting that, as he told us about his day, his travels to and from work and the children he teaches. He also told us of his accommodation and an unusual roommate in Roommate as well as the eating places he frequents as part of daily life. Bob informed us that he would soon be returning to China for a longer period, but I am sure we will hear of his writings before then, even if he cannot be in Bilston.
Last up for the evening was Ira Lightman; a poet who is currently working in Dudley. Ira started his set with an item based on a phone app that sometimes repeated words wrongly. This was followed by a poem about a character called Skelly Little, a character he created for his two sons. It was our night to have poems accompanied by music, as Ira played his ukulele as he told us of the Not in service bus and what he thought would happen if he managed to get on it one night. He finished the evening with a selection from his ‘duet poems’ also known as column poetry, which are two poems written vertically side by side but can also be read horizontally. I hope that this charming young man’s bare feet will tread the carpet of Café Metro again. Bilston Voices next meets on 27th September at 7.30pm, £2 admission. 08-12
This is a relatively new festival which ran over the Bank Holiday Weekend with a full range of music including the Dub Pistols.
Performance and arts activities were provided for in a tent for poetry on each of the three days organised by Nick Short and Anna Saunders from the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. The first thing that struck me was the friendly vibe, with the majority of people camping rather than using day tickets. Inevitably, with the weather changeable, there was the ubiquitous festival mud.
One of the pleasures of travelling further afield is taking in new performers, and one stood out as the best of the night, and amongst the most exciting emerging poetic talents of the year, Joy-Amy Wigman. Flame-haired and oozing attitude and personality she dominated the stage with a well rehearsed set. Toy Boys defiantly celebrated the joys of the younger man for the older woman, whilst Dismay was a brilliant satirical dissection of Fifty Shades of Grey. Joy- Amy recently came runner up to Brenda Reed- Brown as poet laureate for Gloucester, 2012/13, and I am sure we will be hearing much more from her.
Dan Cooper performed a shortish set of stream of consciousness material, which was a shame, as I would have liked to have heard more. Opening the evening had been Guy Williams whose material was diverse and interesting but whose set was a little unfocussed. Cookery Programmes and Porn was his best; Don’t You Hate it When That Happens overworked a nice idea.
I love poetry at Festivals. The audience will always be a mix of the curious and committed with the discipline of having to perform material which engage and delights, otherwise the audience wonders off, a test which is character building and instructive. The tent itself was about the best place to perform in, covered, warm and dry, straw ensured the floor was secure underfoot and kept the mud nicely at bay, the sound system was fine and the lights work during the day too! 08-12
Mee Club Cabaret and Variety Night
Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath
The Mee Club is a relatively new venture, this was its second night, offering a safe and sophisticated singles night out. Hosted by the vivacious and ebullient Cat Wetherill, it showcases musicians, storytellers, actors, poets, authors and comics ( I am sure even more diverse performers will follow) to entertain in a relaxed convivial atmosphere of food, drink and socialising.
Cat herself opened up proceedings with the racy story of the Parisian courtesan Camille. It was an object lesson in good story telling, consummately performed, richly told with a nod and a wink, and with a satisfying twist. She set quite a standard. Fortunately fellow storyteller A Ryan Jones was more than up to the task.
Ryan is a young American from Wyoming, shortly to return Stateside, who has been developing her storytelling skills in Birmingham whilst studying here. Our loss is America’s gain. She delighted the audience with her versatility and deeply human delivery.
Opening with the tale of the blind meadowlark, a traditional story, she seamlessly broadened it to encompass her experiences of leaving her parochial hometown to spread her own wings.
Her narrative carried wisdom far beyond her years, a puzzle answered by her account of fireside camping storytelling as a child from across the generations, and how she both cherished those nights and learned from them. Her style is reserved and understated, her choice of words lavish and emotive. It really was quite a combination.
The author for the evening, Geoffrey Iley , had travelled considerably less far, as he comes from Kings Heath! Reading an extract from his book Navegator, he offered the back story to the thriller based in Majorca before reading an extract from it.
As a regular visitor to the island I can vouch for its sense of place, and purchasing a copy provides entry to a draw to win a free holiday there too. Another local was comedian and poet Lawrence Inman whose dry, laconic demeanour was a delight, not least when reflecting on his time teaching ungrateful students English.
Rounding the evening off was musical duo Farcical comprising Sally Stamford, aka the Lemonade Lady, and Arthur Hyde. A contemporary folk outfit based in Herefordshire , they combined folk and traditional songs with a smile, skill, and lovely harmonies, all delivered with gusto.
The Mee club next meets on Tuesday 4th September, doors and food from 6.30pm, cabaret from 7.30pm with a bill that includes Festival favourite poet Amy Rainbow. For more information on future Mee Clubs: http://www.kitchengardencafe.co.uk/events.php?pid=main 08-12
Boars Head, Kidderminster
The presentation of spoken word continues to evolve, “Kick Off”, is a Kidderminster Arts Festival production, conceived to promote poetry within the context of the opening of the new football season and appeal to an audience outside the usual poetry crowd as a warm up festival event.
Team captains were Mouth & Music stalwarts Heather Wastie, and Sarah Tamar, who assembled an elite group of footballing poetic talent to showcase the evening. It was bonkers. It was wonderful.
Turf was laid out on the stage, a goal and giant football was produced, and a full supporting cast of referee and linesman, VIP to present the trophy, and a chicken mascot were all duly assembled.
Poetry isn’t normally like this. Blatant time wasting was denounced, and poets suffered pulled hamstrings and groin strains during reading. Furthermore there were several obvious examples of shirt pulling (all were in football kit) that the linesman and referee appeared to allow to go unpunished.
The crowd was part of the show. Kate Wragg bought along her guitar to assist with some football songs and two wags were on hand to assist the players!
What worked so well was that the poems were performed within the framework of the match all on a football theme which Maggie Doyle and Sarah James all warmed to brilliantly. Inevitably Fergus McGonigal played a little fast and loose with the theme, choosing to take the music that is played at half time as his football inspiration, but naturally found the poetic net nonetheless with his dribbling skills which are so educated, I swear that his left foot talks Latin................
The material performed was not just light, Carol Ann Duffy’s Achilles impressed as did original work Me Watching Men by Sarah Tamar and Voices in the Crowd by Heather Wastie. What was so heart warming was the camaraderie between players and crowd with the support of Boars Head staff Corina Harper and Sandra. It takes courage to try something different and determination, skill and enthusiasm to pull it off – which is exactly what was achieved.
The Kidderminster Arts Festival runs, led by Loz Samuels, until 25th August. More details: http://www.wyreforestdc.gov.uk/cms/non-lgnl-pages/community-and-partnership-serv/arts-and-play-development/kaf.aspx 08-12
Night Blue Fruit
Taylor Johns Vaults, Canal Basin, Coventry
Host Antony Owen, and sometime host Barry Patterson who was in the audience, do much to promote the poetic cause in Coventry as the context of this evening demonstrated.
The night before had seen the launch of Tony’s Hiroshima Haiku exhibition at Coventry Cathedral, the following week two poets are to be sent to Cork as part of an ongoing cultural exchange.
The haiku exhibition is a contemporary fusion of eleven Haiku by Tony and photography by Daniel O'Toole to commemorate the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The exhibition runs from 3rd August to 31st August . The launch was attended by representatives of Hiroshima and Coventry Lord Mayor's department for peace and reconciliation. There are several associated displays such as artwork from survivors recollections of Hiroshima .
The Chapel of Unity , where the exhibition rests, is to the left as you enter through the main doors into the Cathedral.
War poetry is an awkward genre. The prolonged presence of British service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade means that civilian domestic awareness of war is particularly heightened.
Yet the grisly mechanics of war and the attritional politics of it are matters that most choose not to dwell upon. Tony is as good a contemporary war poet as I have heard. Fat Man, about Churchill’s role in the bombing campaign evokes conflicting emotions in me, which is the point, and is one of Tony’s very best, cleverly juxtaposed this evening against Apathy, a poem of remembrance with its beautiful rhymes.
LUSTRE AND GLOW
LUSTRE AND GLOW
Night Blue Fruit’s two Cork delegates are Jayne Stanton and Janet Smith who both performed extended warm up sets for their readings next week. Janet’s poems offer the precision of the eye of a jeweller assembling a piece, with the lustre and glow that the buyer subsequently beholds. Scorify, Egg and Brushfoot enthralled, A Cry, The Hooded Children and Pacific were warmly received old friends.
Jayne is particularly strong at light, assured reminiscence. Whether it is a 1960s hair dryer or a much loved grandmother, a warm glow surrounds her writing. She also showed herself adept at war writing too with her contribution to the Hiroshima theme, Black Orchids. We all look forwards to the results of the poetic inspiration which their visit to the Emerald Isle will surely fire.
Young Irish poet David Lynch entertained with his punchy poems of the everyday, of which Doing the Dishes was my favourite. Barry Patterson also name checked Hiroshima with his piece on the Amchitka island, Alaska nuclear tests at which a bomb 385 times more powerful than the Hiroshima explosion was detonated.
The counterpoint with his closing The Sky is Not an Atmosphere was probably unintentional. Shortlisted Staffordshire Poet Laureate Tom Wyre followed the war theme with a familiar set, and customary aplomb, before Diane Hart recited a clever piece on Lady Godiva, clothed. Colin Dick wrapped the night up with an episodic epic of Spenserian proportion.
Night Blue Fruit meets next on Tuesday, 4 September at 8pm, free in. Guest poet is Mathew Stewart, a British national who splits his time between West Sussex and Extremadura, Spain. His poetry is coloured by that experience and should feature his recently published pamphlet Invented Truth, published by Happenstance. 07-08-12
Poetry at the Shrewsbury Coffee House
Castle Gates, Shrewsbury
This was my first return visit after a promising inaugural event in May, which has subsequently run monthly, gaining traction and momentum such that it has now moved from the basement to the larger ground floor room.
Liz Lefroy hosts the evening with an elegant light touch and an impressive roster of handpicked performers. A warm balmy evening, a full house, welcoming staff and a great selection of coffees and cold beers promised much, and so it proved.
Larkin is quoted as saying: “Trust nothing which does not spring from feeling, and make art out of life, not art out of art”, it is a good maxim, and one which is sometimes lost by poets who write and forget why they are doing what they are doing.
A feature of this evening was both how many readers had stayed true to that precept, and the variety and brio with which their readings were presented.
Ted Eames pulled no punches with a powerful trio of poems to launch proceedings. Gender differences, sharply observed, eased us in, a wry look at the Judeo/ Christian/Muslim world view was much more lively than the subject matter suggests, whilst The Lords Care, a bilious condemnation of care for the elderly, potently delivered as a duo with Liz Lefroy, drew loud applause for the piece itself, and its message.
Vuyelwa Carlin’s reprised her May performance of Namirembe Cathedral, (the red brick cathedral in Kampala), which she dedicated to David Cato the murdered Ugandan gay rights activist, before closing with The Dream, an unsettling and potent evocation of a protagonist who does not realise she is dead.
Another unafraid to use poetry as a platform for politics was local starlet Mathew Broomfield, educated at Adams Grammar School and a Poetry Society Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award Winner.
His youth theatre experience shone through with his calm assured delivery. Saltwater Sweet, a homage to the murdered South African black activist Steve Biko succeeded in reinventing a familiar well-worn theme spurred by the quote from a local police commander that Biko’s death “left me cold”.
Over the past few years I have seen Paul Francis perform on several occasions. He never disappoints. The consummate professional, he read a witty Roy Hodgson’s Big Mistake, then promptly sat down, the embodiment of the principle that less can be more. Kate Innes picked up on the sporting zeitgeist with Silence is Golden a well-crafted Olympian sonnet.
I invariably enjoy hearing foreign language poetry, curiously French has been under-represented in my previous encounters, so it was a particular pleasure to hear Nathalie Hildegarde Liege read Le Plus Plaisant de Beaute and Une Ophelia Brule.
Although even for an educated audience, the language was beyond what most of us utilise at the boulangerie’s of Calais and the vineyards of La Loire, the beauty and rhythms of her poems were self-evident. Steve Thayne picked up on the ethereal nature of Natalie’s poems with titles like, This Space, I am Blossoming and Small Whispers.
He cut a bohemian dash in a flared sleeve blouse as favoured by Jon Anderson from Yes, and his themes could easily have been culled from Tales From Topographical Oceans. In the spirit of prog rock I was not entirely sure what it all meant, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
Janet Smith’s musical poetic milieu is somewhat different, favouring the brevity of a Pistols’ single, the lyricism of Patti Smith, and the complexity of Talking Heads. The other worldly Hooded Children rooted in an uncertain time and place, compels and intrigues, A Cry is a stripped down gem.
Self-styled Emergency Poet Deborah Alma gave a trademark performance. As Mary Poppins always found that a spoonful of sugar helped the medicine go down, so the treatment of Deborah ensures that a poetry evening will be brightened and rejuvenated by her verse.
Fey, bright and clever she romped through her deconstruction of the rural idyll and the saucy antics of a cattle lorry lover, with pathos, wit and a twinkle in her eye.
It was a delight to see this event embedded into the Borders poetry calendar, a tribute to the efforts of Liz Lefroy and local talent. Next meeting on Thursday 13th September, 7.30pm with David Calcutt amongst the readers. 03-08-12
Metro Cafe, Bilston
I'm back in the UK for the summer and determined to get to (not to mention perform at) as many poetry events as I can before returning to China.
So I visited Poetry Bites at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's heath on Tuesday and Bilston Voices on Thursday.
Jane Seabourne and Nick Pearson were headlining in Kings Heath and provided their usual solid performances, ably supported by more excellent open mic readings than I could count, let alone comment on.
It's a perfect venue and it was a great night but it was Bilston Voices that I was really looking forward to, as I used to try to attend every month before I left for foreign shores.
I had originally intended only to watch as my own booking there is next month but an eleventh hour telephone call informed me that my old writing group - Scribblers were being recorded for a CD and they wanted me to do something for it.
The recording that they were making is a CD of the combined talents of Bilston Writers and Scribblers and much of it had been recorded last month. The remaining poets were to perform for the microphone on Thursday.
They kicked off with the remaining two Bilston Writers poets - Carol Howarth and Marion Cockin. Carol's great strength is her voice, which perfectly matches the descriptive quality of her work - whether she is reading a lyrical account of a visit to a butterfly reserve or an amusing piece about a sheepdog's retirement party.
Marion followed with an accomplished group of poems including her popular piece about Walter Raleigh's head being kept by his wife after his death.
Then it was the turn of Scribblers with readings from five of us. Andy Moreton kicked off with four poems - two of them in his customary humorous style and two somewhat darker and more serious pieces.
All four were very good though the tale of Nigel the moth has always been one of my favourites. Jill Tromans gave us a change of pace with a story rather than a poem - a tale of ghostly apparition in a pub which was chock full of her trademark humour and had the whole audience chuckling along.
Another tale followed, this time from Neil Howard punning on the concept of Metro-Gnomes. He rounded out his set with a short descriptive piece about a badger before handing over to Silvia Millward. Silvia's great trick is to write poems that while firmly rooted in Bilston's industrial heritage manage to be both moving and lyrical.
Then it was over to me to do a brand new piece on its first time out - Nothing - a list poem about birthday presents for a father who always tells people not to buy him birthday presents.
The CD will, I am told, be available in September. The second half of the bill was back to the normal format. No recording and three longer sets. Madge Gilbey opened with her Black Country dialect poetry.
I confess that I am not a great lover of the form but Madge pulls it off smoothly, in part due to her accent always sounding natural and never forced but, mostly, because the poems are witty enough and strong enough to stand on their own merits.
DIGITAL SOUND LOOPS
DIGITAL SOUND LOOPS
Next up was Al Barz who cut a strange figure - an older, bearded chap who began his set by setting up an electronic keyboard to accompany his recitations with digital sound loops and rhythms.
It was a format that worked well, lending an unusual quality to his strong humorous verses. I was particularly taken with With This Ring, the tale of a serial philanderer.
His entertaining set would have been the highlight of the night had he not been followed by John Edgar with a brace of well crafted and wonderfully told shaggy dog stories - about a struggling actor and a good man who fails, on a technicality, to get into heaven.
He threw himself into a dramatic performance with such vigour that it was hard not to get carried away by it all. He was the perfect choice to end another great evening at Bilston Voices. I've been away for a year but it's lost none of its quality. I shall be back next month and then, sadly, gone again. I shall miss it.
Bilston Voices next meets on Thurs 23rd August, 7.30pm, £2 at the Metro Café. 26-07-12.
Bob Hale is a Black Country poet and English teacher, currently working in China. He claims no credit for China’s Olympic success in the gymnastics and swimming. He is performing at City Voices, City Bar, King St Wolverhampton at 7.30pm on Tues 14th August and at Bilston Voices on Thurs 23rd, poems about China are a certainty!
Flarestack Poets Launch
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
This was the occasion of the launch of no less than three pamphlets from award-winning Birmingham poetry press Flarestack Poets.
They comprised 2012 pamphlet competition winners David Clarke (Gaud) and Nichola Deane (My Moriarty) and the best of the rest in the anthology, 'Sylvia Is Missing.'
Co-editors Jacqui Rowe and Meredith Andrew have nurtured the press to the point where competition entries were received on a nationwide basis, far beyond their Birmingham heartland constituency. That national reputation is well deserved.
The Ikon was a strong setting, modern, central and offering a sense of occasion. Literary launches are quite different from conventional poetry evenings, and, counter intuitively, quite risky. What works on the page may not work so well performed, the performers may be an unknown quantity in their ability to project their work, and selections can be quixotic.
So the absence of editorial gleichschaltung can provide inspiration for the audience - and chewed fingernails for the organisers. A full house on a warm summer evening gave the event the best possible start as Brum’s poetic cognoscenti gathered to talent spot.
David Clarke, a Londoner, was the first of the featured poets. His set was thematically quite varied, taking in the Afghanistan/Iraq War, the specious appeal of Eastern Bloc totalitarianism, and the politics of slang, Edith Piaf and cabbage.
TANGENTIAL AND RESERVED
TANGENTIAL AND RESERVED
His style is forensic, detached, observational, tangential and reserved. All his poems were meticulously crafted, and controlled (he teased us with promise of a sequence of sonnets about illicit substance abuse, only to limit his excess to a few glasses of wine!). I particularly enjoyed Notes Towards the Definition of a Revolution.
The second featured poet was Nichola Deane from the Cotswolds. My Moriarty takes its name from her childhood exposure to Saturday showings of Basil Rathbone in his black and white celluloid pomp. Nichola cautioned us that some of her poems were hard to describe, but I found her work accessible and immediate on first hearing.
Landscape poems took us from the Outer Hebrides to western Ireland, and her response to Werner Herzog’s On Death Row, a series that I greatly admired, was powerful although may have been a little obtuse for those unfamiliar with the source material. X and Wittgenstein’s Deckchair were her standout pieces, and worth buying the pamphlet for on their own.
Readers from the anthology had around three poems/four minutes each, a format I quite like. As used to be the case with vinyl pop singles it focuses the talent of the artist to make an immediate impact, and several did just that.
Clare Dyer performed her love trilogy with impressive sprezzatura, One Summer, One Bike, One Boy capturing wonderfully the quintessence of young love. Charles Wilkinson similarly effortlessly evoked the spirit of a Birmingham long gone with skill and authenticity.
Janet Smith combines a formidable command of language with an emotional kick, and a shamanic delivery, which beguiles and delights, as showcased in The Hooded Children and A Cry. Jacci Garside impressed with a very strong trio of poems, her observation that no word existed to describe kissing a loved one after an extended absence was the stuff of which poetry is about.
Nicki Arscott’s paean to a summer of love in Spain, The Pinnacle of Evolution, The Gardeners Boy and Yerma’s Ghost bore testimony to a vibrant and exciting young talent, Michael Thomas’s childhood reminiscences succeeded because of their Everyman qualities.
A successful evening also appeared to be had at the book sales desk, I do hope that the winners support Flarestack as the press has supported them by performing further readings, it is the only way for new work to secure literary traction. All three pamphlets are available from: www.flarestackpoets.co.uk. 31-07-12
Polesworth Abbey, Polesworth
Spoken Word Events in the area are in rude health. Recently Poetry Alight at Lichfield, Shindig at Leicester, and Spoken Worlds at Burton have all enjoyed strong attendances, and so it was tonight at Fizz in Polesworth.
A balmy summer evening brought out summer dresses, barely used shorts, and milky white legs.
Fizz always has an intimate feel, enhanced by the setting of the historic Abbey. Host Mal Dewhirst is an indefatigable promoter of local poetry. Fizz itself pretty much represented a curtain raiser for “Dig the Poetry” an inspired initiative whereby poets interface with professional archaeologists as they excavate new areas around the Abbey.
Established authors regularly headline Fizz. Yet there is a wealth of local talent, nurtured by some of the aforementioned events and writing groups who rarely get their moment in the sun.
This time Terri Jolland from Repton had the opportunity to showcase her writing skills, which she has thrown herself into developing in the past few years.
Terri clearly relished the chance to stretch out a little with the extra time a headline slot affords, taking in nostalgia, nature and a trademark comedy sketch with her husband Ray.
Tender, affectionate and in turns wistful and playful in tone she seized her opportunity in style, an example of her work stands for posterity on the Polesworth Poetry Trail in Pooley Country Park.
QUIRK OF FATE
Life has its cycle, and a quirk of fate illustrated that truism tonight. Dea Costello and Peter Gray have been distinguished and much valued members of the local poetry scene for some years now.
Dea’s fine writing has always impressed, and her headmistressly bearing always commanded attention (although she does have a racy side too!). Remembering You was a poignant epitaph to her time in the Midlands.
Peter always presented himself as an apprentice poet after a long career as a scientist, but his forensic approach to his writing was no less a pleasure. So it was with some sadness that they delivered a valedictory performance before heading south to Stroud to set up a new home. I wish them well. They will be missed.
But as Dea and Peter disappeared into the sunset so a new voice appeared at Fizz - Gemma Hogg. After her impressive debut at Poetry Alight she has clearly got the poetry bug and read four poems mainly inspired by Glastonbury, however it was her ruthless dissection of Lichfield’s Boley Park estate in Legoland which lingered in the mind.
Barry “the Bard” Patterson made a welcome return delivering summer poetry with his usual spezzatura, one of the few men who can say “fuck” poetically, Margaret Torr was cool with The Tundra, Jayne Stanton continues to embed herself in the local scene and remind me what tasseography means.
Old hands Gary Carr and Tom Wyre add value to any evening, whilst Roy Marshall paid a first visit to Fizz leaving us wanting more after a double helping of Sill and On loan. Fizz next fizzles at the Heritage Open Day of 8th September. For more information on Fizz and Dig the Poetry at Polesworth Abbey:
Western Pub, Leicester
As usual, I was not disappointed. The bar in which the performance was taking place was packed, the other bar all but deserted, which says much for the pulling power of a good spoken word evening.
Shindig runs bi-monthly, which has advantages. It is sufficiently frequent to be a fixture on its audience’s calendar, without being so frequent that maintaining the quality of headline performers becomes a problem. The star billing was shared between the poets who closed the first and second halves.
Closing the first half was Maria Taylor, introduced by Jane Comane of Nine Arches Press, the publishers of Maria’s new collection Melanchrini. I have heard her read several times over the past couple of years, most recently within the week when she performed in Lichfield.
I am starting to tire of poets on the circuit whose dedication to promoting their published work is half-hearted and lackadaisical. It is as if they think that simply reading some decent poems is enough. Those poets might learn much from Maria. Her set was well constructed. The context of the collection and individual poems explained, and she performed each poem without allowing the performance to overshadow the poem.
Melanchrini, she explained, is a Greek term of affection for a small dark haired female child. In turn that affection is apparent for the subject matter of her writing, be it family furniture heirlooms, or women whose husbands have disappeared in unexplained circumstances. This was her third promotional reading after Ledbury in just over a week, I am sure that her hard work and professionalism will ensure the success of a fine collection.
Kim Moore closed the evening, introduced by Jonathan Taylor of Crystal Clear Creators, and was a delight. I knew nothing about her before. Her first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and was published in May of this year, from which she read extensively. She works in Cumbria as a peripatetic brass teacher.
In 2011 she won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and an Eric Gregory Award. Previously I had only associated Barrow-in-Furness with submarines and a struggling football team; that perception has now broadened. Afterwards, she told me that Barrow has a burgeoning, vibrant spoken word scene. It may well be that the geographical isolation of the town is an asset.
Long train journeys to pretty much anywhere from Barrow are a fact of life, and I particularly enjoyed The Train. Its sharp social observation was replicated in Tuesdays at Wetherspoons, the grim reality of which is not confined to Barrow. Her sense of humour shone through in Hartley Street Spiritualist Church, a visit to which was made more enjoyable as a result of it coinciding with when “mediums were in training”. A natural, easy performer, with readily accessible, but meticulously constructed poetry, she brought the evening to an end on a high.
Alan Baker had appeared before Kim as a guest poet, and is the founder, and co-editor of Leafe press. Although a Geordie by birth, he now lives in Nottingham and his most recent collection is entitled Variations on Painting a Room.
Neat, and ordered, his order versus disorder piece was clever, his poem on Nottingham’s Chilwell ammunition factory, the country’s most productive shell filling factory during the First World War, his most satisfying. I would have liked to have heard more. Robin Vaughan –Williams wraps up the list of featured poets.
A distinguished and active writer, he has lived in Sheffield, Nottingham and Iceland and has worked on collaborative poetry and music compositions and soundscapes. He read from his collection The Manager developing themes as diverse as the wind and blue curtains. His set was awash with interesting ideas, but for me, the selections lacked cohesion as an entity.
Shindig is as renowned for its floor readers as it is for its guests. Amongst the regulars, Jayne Stanton transported me back to 1970’s era drinking pubs, smoke filled and with the jukebox hammering out my favourite tune. Previously Deborah Tyler Bennet had impressed with a homage to Ian Dury, this time she again hit the mark with Hangar Lane, with echoes of John Cooper Clarke’s Beasley St chiming in the background.
Bob Richardson touched me with his poem about a victim of the Kings Cross fire disaster who remained unidentified for sixteen years. It was an object lesson in taking a subject which lends itself to melodramatic cliché, and finding a fresh angle; its humanity was its strength. And yes, Bob brought his bag . . .
Amongst the newcomers Gary Carr impressed with Without You, Tom Wyre with Cellophane Man. There were also some tantalising vignettes. Graham Norman and Maria Rooner performed a delightful two hander, reciting the same poem in English and German, Tracy Twell told of Leningrad seed banks. For Sally Jack, a double Haiku sufficed.
Second half host Jonathan Taylor was in ebullient mood and seems to be developing a musical theme. At the last Shindig he performed Mozart’s Clarinet Sextet (a literal impossibility, but best not to dwell), at Lichfield’s Poetry Alight he performed a piece on Stockhausen, this time Our Price ‘95 was as scathing as it was funny. Shindig does it all again on Monday 17th September, 7.30pm start, free in, sign up for floor spots on the night. 16-07-12
Lydney Poetry Team Slam
Lydney Festival, Lydney
Summer sees a slew of festivals encompassing all manner of artistic endeavour of which poetry is playing an increasing part. The Lydney festival is a sprawling affair taking in all of June and the first two weeks of July with events ranging from banshee busking, through jazz concerts, to a Last Night at the Proms event.
Part of the Festival’s tradition is becoming a team poetry slam at which Lydney takes on a visiting team of poetic troubadours, who this year came in the form of Team Rainbow. Amy Rainbow is a festival favourite and protégé of John Cooper Clarke, her team included Worcestershire Poet Laureate Maggie Doyle, one half of the Very Grimm bros, Adrian Mealing, and myself.
When I first took the call from Amy inviting me onto her team I agreed to participate without having any idea of where Lydney was, adding to the sense of adventure. On the day, travelling down, that sense of adventure assumed Biblical proportions as a fire delayed our motorway journey, roads became flooded with the incessant downpour, and the pub was not doing food, equating to famine. All that was missing was the pestilence!
The venue, the Annexe pub, is ideal for performance with a modern, well-equipped function room and stage, comfortable surroundings, and welcoming staff. Brenda Read-Brown hosted, with Andrea on adding up, and did a fine job entertaining and cajoling an appreciative good-sized crowd.
The format was two rounds of the two teams of four offering their finest three-minute poetic musings with the highest aggregate score being declared the winner. The performers have the advantage of their own three minutes not being make or break, but that is counter-balanced by professional pride meaning that non-one wanted to let the side down with a bad performance.
The Lydney team benefitted from the redoubtable services of Fergus McGonigal, whose rant against the worst excesses of Eighties popular music was particularly well received, a counterpoint to team member Peter Wyton’s homage to the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones first ever gig.
Carole Ruding splits her time between Lydney and New Zealand and her wistful poem about wanting to experience the joys of childhood again was both poignant and very well delivered. Special mention should also be made of final team member Roger Dury who performed as a late replacement with some great poems and a nice hat.
Amy led her team with assurance and aplomb dressed in a pink tutu, the latter of which did nothing to soften the venom in her notorious I Don’t put down of a man’s marriage proposal, which as always, was greeted with sisterly bonhomie from the women in the audience, and horror by the men! Adrian Mealing seduced the crowd with his smooth urbane manner before prodding their social conscience with his fine protest poem about the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demonstration, whilst Maggie Doyle teased and entertained with her tales of the exploits of The Merry Widow.
A close run contest saw visitors Team Rainbow just edge victory past the home team in a contest conducted in the finest traditions of poetic goodwill, and a generous and appreciative audience. Prizes of copies of the Kama Sutra were gratefully received, as was the kind hospitality of the organisers in inviting performers for a late night supper of pizza and wine.
More information about the Lydney Festival is available here: http://www.lydney-online.co.uk/events/lydney-festival/ 12-07-12
Spark Café, Lichfield
Gary Longden, whose wide travels in providing us with his fantastic reviews of the Midlands Poetry and Spoken Word events, brings him into contact with many great poets, who he brings to the Poetry Alight event to share their work with a full audience at this now established event.
Gary Longden kicks things off
This month saw the guests from two poetry presses who are both actively delivering excellence in new poetry to new audiences, with Crystal Clear Creators and Offa’s Press.
Bert began with saying that he always felt his name Bert was unpoetic, until he was presented with a Chinese print with his name spelt out in Mandarin script which changed his mind. His next piece was the observation of a man stumbling, with the excellent poem What I Know, which ended with a silence in which he left us to reflect. Bert always performs his work well and can hold the audience; this was a very fitting start to the evening.
Bert Flitcroft sets the standard
Next came the first of the Lichfield poets, with a double act from Val Thompson and Heather Fowler, who delighted us with their thoughts on the state of the NHS which Lazarus Team, followed by a poem to Yoga with saluting the sun. Being a double act meant that they had twice the normal three minutes so they continued wit More Than which remembered a teacher Miss Hughes and continued with The Tray and the pains of sick dog.
They finished with When the Talking is done. There approach to delivering poetry as two voices added another dimension. More poets should consider this, creating narrative from the poems.
They were followed by the first of the representatives of this year’s Coventry Cork Literature exchange which I had the honour of being part of last year.
Jayne Stanton, Jayne who is based in Leicestershire gave us two poems, the first reflecting on the Garden of Remembrance at Loughborough University with fear of leaving memories; she followed this with Heat with legs dropping, melding and daring to dream.
Jayne Stanton – heading to Cork
She will really enjoy her trip to Cork in
August and O’Bheal is in for a treat of great poetry.
A wonderful piece that resonated around the gathered company. She followed this with a poem on the Icelandic Ash Cloud, blaming Bankers and Politicians. Her final piece Grey Rabbit told of a bus journey in the USA on the Hippy Bus which was basically converted into a bed where she mixed with women who had lovers and hung out on Haight Ashbury and how she was very English. A great set.
Peter Branson – all the way from Cheshire
Next came another new voice, who had travelled
down from Cheshire, the well published Peter Branson whose next
collection is to be published by the much acclaimed Salmon press. Peter
remembered the Queens coronation with Jubilee which was dedicated to
Brian Lithgow, a friend who had hidden in ditch behind the shed during
the original coronation, which had made him a Republican. He finished
with a song the Editha Massacre which was a tribute to the great
American folk singer, Woody Guthrie who was born 100 years ago this
Justina Hart came next with a poem about lovers, Nightingale which is never heard piercing the light and imagines a star passing down her throat. Another new voice to me and a very good one too.
Ian Ward another of the Lichfield Poets, reordered the words of D H Lawrence with his poem Kangaroo which he followed with a poem after Walter De La Mare’s The Listeners with a response to the traveller another accomplished reading.
Nottingham Poet Richard Young delivered one of
his delightful funny poems from memory, a performance that has become
accomplished since I first met Richard. His humorous poem saw him
feeling sorry for those unfortunate heroes such as Michael Collins – the
3rd man who did not land on the moon on Apollo 11, to Frank Bruno who
didn’t rumble in the jungle, Gareth Southgate who missed that penalty
but despite all of this they Keep Trying. Strong material and a strong
performance, I can listen and watch Richard at anytime.
Poetry Trail Poet, Penny Harper found objects that never fulfil their potential, like a second hand hoover, she followed this with a wonderful poem about the island of Skomer in Pembrokeshire, ancient, British stitching Island to the sea in flight.
The first half was finished by the first of the guest poets with Crystal Clear Creative’s Jonathan Taylor. Crystal Clear Creators have been organising day schools, radio performances, poetry events and publishing pamphlets and the magazine Hearing Voices since 2003. Based in Leicester they host the Shindig poetry events.
Crystal Clear Creator – Jonathan Taylor
Jonathan started with a poem, Mozart’s Clarinet Sextet with its counterpoint of gin and wee as a concert is interrupted by the musings of a drunken woman, well written and delivered from an accomplished pen. He followed this by one of the pieces of the evening Kontakte – a prose piece after Karl Heinz Stockhausen, which was a story built around the electronic minimalism of the music. The protagonist was Derick who sat in the dark listening to Stockhausen on a tape recorder, which perpetually rewound and replayed. When he tried to turn it off the stop button broke and we are left with the image of Derick sitting in the dark spending the rest of his life listening to Stockhausen. This was a triumph and I can well see why Jonathan would want to divert us away from poetry to explore the brilliance of this piece.
Jonathan’s wife Maria finished the first half with a reading from her collection Melanchrini published by Nine Arches Press. Her poems built around her upbringing and memories from her childhood. At Her Grandmothers table tells of visits to Cypress, sitting at the table drinking Greek/Turkish coffee as a dark featured young woman, the Melanchrini, the table that her parents now have and where she now takes her children to sit. Delicado and Mr Hill remembered times when she lived in the upstairs flat to Patricia (Mrs Hill) who talked about her husband as if he were dead, but he had in fact left her many years ago, the irony was when he did die his ashes were sent to Patricia and not his lover.
Melanchrini – Maria Taylor
Soapsud Island told of her time in Acton,
which was known as London’s laundry, now all demolished, she wants to
take the iron and make it smooth. Felling a maiden explores her changing
her Greek Cypriot name for an English one when she marries and Outside
of being pregnant with her twins. Each poem building a narrative
timeline from childhood to motherhood as she delivered this thoughtful
set. She finished with Larkin and her obsession with the poet which
becomes an addition. Melanchrini is a wonderful debut collection from a
poet who has a lively turn of phrase and is sensitive to her roots; seek
it out from Nine Arches Press.http://www.ninearchespress.com/melanchrini.html
The second half was headed by our two guest poets from Offa’s Press, Jane Seabourne and Nick Pearson.
Jane read from her collection Bright Morning, her first poem Red Kites, where she had expected them to be redder than they actually were, but was transfixed by their flight to come to the conclusion that they we red enough.
Looking for Red Kites – Jane Seabourne
Her second poem Ornithoptor, talked of a man
in an office learning to fly, observing the birds and building his wings
and then escaping the drudge of his job to fly, something that resonates
with me. Her third piece was to her hero, Dr Johnson who she described
as a fleshquake of a man who kept his words safe in his book. She showed
her respect for this literary hero in her well crafted poem. Jane
finished with her Three Bears Poem, which explored the impact that an
intruder can have on the lives of those who the intruded. A good place
to finish with a thought provoking piece.
Nick Pearson was the second guest from Offa’s Press, reading from his collection Mad in Captivity also available for the Offa’s press website. He delves into familiar worlds with known characters that sometimes are ourselves. His first poem Clothing Item covered a man’s obsession with a pair of M&S Chinos, he followed this with the very witty and recognisable Coming Clean, which brought the theme of an employee appraisal, again a familiar situation to many and I guess like me he saw the pointlessness of them.
Nick continued with Silent Apple, among the noise of office lunchboxes, the silent apple has more dignity in the hands of someone who reads books; it contemplates its life on the tree, ripened by the sun and the stars. His poem Receivership, an observation on the plight of independent traders in the world of the corporate giants, in his case a coffee shop who went into administration before he could redeem his loyalty reward card.
Made in Captivity – Nick Pearson
Referential upbringing took him back to his
childhood and the confusion of words, playfully expanding meanings and
connections that only a child can do. He finished with a poem about
giving up smoking, Final Frame, where observations and conversations
become focussed on smoke, ash and nicotine. These are all written from
Nick’s unique perspective but are without doubt so familiar to some many
people. A great reading from an excellent collection, both Jane’s and
Nick’s collections are excellent reads, do check them out.
The evening continued with a reading from the second of the poets on the Coventry-Cork Literature exchange, who is also a Poetry Trail Poet. Janet Smith read A Cry her poem from the trail, a poem I will never tire of hearing her read. She holds the audience within the spell of the conversation between the human and the bird. She followed this with the Hood Children a poem about rain and finished with Brushwood drawn from her Yorkshire roots and the textile industry. Another excellent set which will see excellent readings in Cork and Limerick this summer from two very accomplished voices.
David Calcutt followed with a performance from memory, which I always admire. Here was a poet comfortable with his own work and performance. Reciting from the floor before heading to the stage create a piece of theatre which is always a welcome change. The poem described a rainy skyline, was another of the nights performances, from a master craftsman. You can read more about David athttp://www.davidcalcutt.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/
Also heading to Cork – Janet Smith
Another of the Lichfield Poets, George Barbrook gave us a musical theme with Rhythm and Blues followed by Open Access which explored dementia. Followed by Penny Hewlett who gave us a poem of broken lives with going back all too great effect.
A new voice with Jemma Hogg who read three poems written at the Glastonbury with Pedestal Lover, The Fraud and the Darkness, she was followed by Mike Seaton from Northern Ireland whose poems on going home and the return of the snow were also a great introduction to their poems at this event.
Ben McNair gave his poem of student bands with Hallelujah Jones and his observations on Manchester streets at 2:00am with its Picasso spewing bouncers.
Burton based Poetry activist Gary Carr followed Ben with his I can’t get no information, with his takes on tweeting and social media, a piece he started as he walked through the audience to great effect. His second poem Red and Black explored the serious world of table tennis. Gary finished with a favourite of mine, two poems which took poetry readings both good and bad as its theme. Gary always delivers and his explorations into new ways to engage an audience are always of interest, they worked well here. Gary runs Spoken Worlds at the Old Cottage Tavern, Bykerley St Burton on Friday 20th July at 7:30pm.
Another new voice to me with Shawn Rolls, whose poem reflected on the frailty of the old as they become victims of conmen. Tom Wyre brought some of his new poems The Lucid Door, The Strength of Spirits, finishing with an environmental Mother Earth poem Terra Mater which were all full of imagery that is Tom’s forte.
Gary Longden our host gave us a poem on his
disgust at bands reforming in a frenzy of retromania. The evening was
finished with two poems from the leader of the Lichfield Poets, Janet
Jenkins, who mused on Tennis and her own love match with Forty Love and
ending with a comic tale of the teeth.
Images from Tom Wyre
The evening was again a wonderful evening of the best contemporary poetry from the region and beyond it will be interesting to see how this event develops along side the Literature Festival, which seems to pander to big names and is surely missing a trick by not including an event such as Poetry Alight as part of the festival programme.
The next Poetry Alight will be on 2nd October
at the Spark Café, 7:30pm, Free Entry but you need to contact Gary
Longden in advance if you want to read. 10-07-12
Café Metro, Bilston
WE do like groundbreaking projects in Bilston and this was the first time that our monthly Bilston Voices session had been used as a live recording for the local Bilston Writers.
Each of a group of writers had been given five minutes to showcase their work for a CD.
The evening kicked off with John Edgar, who was the sound recording engineer for the evening, doing his sound checks and persuading us to applaud to order. Not that the regular Bilston audience need much encouragement when it comes to joining in.
Once we had been warmed up, first on was Sarah James, a Bilston Voices regular. Sarah started by taking us on a tour across the English Channel with a lovely descriptive poem based on a French chateau . She followed this with a poem based on the alphabet, one on sweet peas and finished with one called Bostin’ Bilston that I wish she would have been available to read to the Heart of England in Bloom judges, when they judged us on Thursday morning.
Jim McFarlane’s fine voice led us into a fantasy love story set in Paris that was part of a longer set, yet could stand alone. It was good to have somebody who will tell us a story amongst all the poets.
Next up was Ramesh Gaat, who used poetry to compare reading to other delightful activities that a person could partake. The remainder of the set included short poems on an art map and the fonts that are used in signs and other written material, which is not literary. A final poem comparing life’s span with the speed of sound and light rounded off Ramesh’s set.
The soft lilting Irish voice of Veronica Shepherd, a retired nurse, took us along through verses that compared the way the reality of the ‘Middle Earth’ of the Black Country as it was, came through in JRR Tolkien’s novels.
I really enjoyed this. Her Noblesse Oblige was an amusing insight into her view of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Rakes of Amazons, an anecdote of Irish life, kept us further amused to complete her session at the mike.
Stuart Haycox is another reader who has performed at Café Metro before. Stuart is very concerned about the environment and his set reflected that. Stuart poetically discussed climate change and the effects it has on the lives of all of us.
A face that is familiar to many Bilston folks belongs to Jackie Evans, who has great energy and happily gets involved in local events and issues.
Her poetry choice included Bargain, about bargain hunting in the town, Frantic Fling (for a friend) and a homage to her friend Kit Wright, who is a great help to her. Jackie is a regular reader at Café Metro as well as in the audience.
Her work is always good to hear and she manages to produce something delightful and different each time she performs.
Last up for the recording was Peter Hill, another regular in the Bilston Voices audience who sometimes treats us to his writing. Peter is very interested in Bilston history and his poem about Elisabeth, a long lamented blast furnace, is very evocative of the era when heavy industry dominated the town. He is also interested in his environment, particularly in what it is, and how it compares to other areas, which showed in his piece Finding the right environment.
Kuli Kohli was unable to read her own work, but Rebecca Summan stood in and (I believe another BV first) read Kuli’s work from a kindle type reader. She started with Rag doll, a poem that commented on her life with cerebral palsy and how people sometimes react to her.
Further poetry commenting on a similar theme followed; including one about a near disaster she had when going to close to a cliff edge. Many people might regard this as a gloomy theme, but Kuli’s sense of humour shows through everywhere and came out even more in her final poem about her Papa Ji’s garden, a place where he used to protect his plants with a stern voice.
Known for his Shropshire poems and his work with Wolverhampton libraries, MC at City Voices, Simon Fletcher needed little introduction.
As final reader of the evening, Simon took us on a life’s journey through Shropshire history and landscape from the Wrekin and Hormond Hill via a variety of place names.
Between these, we heard about A little bridge of sympathy that he had built with a man from Lahore and the joys of travelling using maps to navigate, all delivered in Simon’s now familiar laid back style.
Overall another good evening at Café Metro. 28-06-12
Eileen Ward Birch
Four Crystal Pamphlet Launch
City Gallery, Nottingham
HAVING unsuccessfully tried to tame my three-day fever with Paracetamol and sooth my raw throat with lozenges, I arrived coughing, clammy and slightly off-kilter in the city of Nottingham for the launch of Crystal Pamphlets at the City Gallery.
Just past and to the left of Nottingham’s famous lion statues there is a small gated alleyway which leads to the glass fronted gallery with its white walls and wooden floor. If you turn to look up and over your shoulder before entering you can see through the steel structure over the doorway to look at the perfectly framed council building dome, a mini St. Paul’s through a millennium bridge-style metal lattice.
I met the proprietor at the door who told me that this former sex shop had been open two months and that the sound of the clock mechanism in the tower bounces and funnels up the alley walls to ricochet into the gallery doorway.
The readers were Deborah-Tyler Bennet, Andrew Graves, Mark Goodwin, Charles Lauder, Aly Stoneman, Wayne Burrows and myself.
The event was extremely enjoyable, there being a bar, good music and a large audience of interested listeners. Aly had planned a really good structure to the readings; Crystal Clear director Jonathan Taylor introduced the evening, explaining how the writers had been selected via a competition and speaking about the Arts Council Grant and support from Writing East Midlands.
Each Crystal Clear poet introduced their mentor who read their own work before introducing their mentee. Before each set of poems we were treated to insights into the mentoring relationships. Introductions enabled each reader to make succinct statements about what she or he found to be the strengths of each-others work. By the end of the evening no-one present was left in any doubt that the project had succeeded in bringing about a fruitful creative cross-pollination between all parties.
After lots of chat and a glass of wine I left the
gallery to the sound of ‘Hey Joe’ played by a bandana wearing busker
with log grey hair. Listening cross-legged at his feet sat two girls,
aged about 16; either this was a testament to the enduring appeal of
rock n roll or a sobering reminder that kids of this age still have no
particular place to go. 30-06-12
Roy Marshall is a Leicestershire based poet who will be appearing at Poetry Alight, Spark Cafe, Tamworth St, Lichfield, 7.30pm, 2nd October, 2012. His pamphlet ‘Gopagilla‘ is published by Crystal Clear pamphlets.
For more information on Crystal Clear Creators their website is: http://crystalclearcreators.org.uk/
Barlow Theatre, Oldbury
The Barlow Theatre, otherwise known as Oldbury Rep, sits gently in a cul-de-sac close to a couple of excellent pubs and a variegated row of shops and food purveyors.
It is a charming little theatre with an almost continuous run of plays and musicals and it sports a fine bar with a cosy atmosphere, where poetry events can, and have, taken place for many years. Spouting Forth used it some years ago with a membership that included several who were later Birmingham Poets Laureate, Geoff Stevens who resurrected the venue’s poetic content with his Purple Patch magazine events, and a National Small Press Publishers’ Convention who used it over three days.
Unfortunately, Geoff died in February, but a group of us decided to continue to promote his legacy as well as his Barlow meetings. Purple Penumbra is the first, supported, as ever, by the good offices of JohnUpton who opened the theatre bar for us poets in his usual generous tradition.
Attendees included a Wolverhampton University Course Leader in Creative and Professional Writing (himself a published poet and novelist), the Secretary of Bilston Community Association, Walsall’s current Poet Laureate, some old friends and some new young poets, all eager to read or perform their own or Geoff’s work.
With the Queen’s Jubilee celebration still in our short-term memory, Eileen Ward-Birch started us off with a timely, humorous poem about when the Queen was ‘coronated’, as if she was but a child.
Someone I’ve only ‘met’ on Facebook as Photo Giraffe, who hadn’t intended to read, gave us a very moving and beautiful picture, from memory, of Jeff Buckley, the US singer-songwriter. Strange connection here – Jeff Buckley posthumously had a hit record with ‘Hallelujah’, a song played at the funeral of Geoff Stevens.
Shabz Ahmed gave us an intelligent piece which for me served to highlight cultural connections as well as differences of mankind. Ian Henery regaled us with his Olympic poem and, particularly for Eileen, one called “We Are Wolverhampton”. Greg Stokes read from his book a couple of hilarious passages – a local spy story and one that confused me as to whether it was a casino or a brothel… someone was cashing in on the former, but were they on the latter?
For me, the highlight of the evening was Dr Paul McDonald who had a couple of superb semi-autobiographical poems and one about Walt Whitman, also a favourite of his good friend, Geoff Stevens, and a tale of Geoff’s pre-eminent knowledge of sausages and house bricks. Sue Hulse told us a tale of two grandfathers, incredible stories, too surrounding the poetry.
For most of us who knew Geoff, I believe that this was a little cathartic. We read his poems remembering him, and I’m sure he would be pleased to find in his shadow a burgeoning purple penumbra. 27-06-12
Al Barz is a poet and musician who performs extensively across the Midlands, and was a close friend of Geoff’s.
For more information on the late Geoff Stevens, visit his posthumously maintained website: http://www.geoffstevens.co.uk/index1.htm
Poetry & Pints
The Globe Public House – The Ludlow Fringe Festival
The Ludlow Festival is a well-established affair. This year a fringe has been established which included a poetry day on the Saturday boasting a daylong range of events from readings and workshops, through to the highlight, Poetry and Pints, at the Globe public house in the evening.
A large open sided gazebo had been erected to keep the anticipated mid- summer sun off the backs of poets, some who had travelled a considerable distance to attend a combination of open mic, and the debut performance of The Olympians by Bridgnorth Writers. The big travelling contingent of poets bore testimony to Deborah Alma’s poetic pulling power.
Local author Mike Sergeant kept proceedings on the move as MC, Anita Bigsby, Festival organiser watched anxiously as her fledgling coming together unfolded.
Ludlow is a beautiful, historic market town, the Globe pub, old and oozing character, a fitting setting for poetry.
Staging poetry on a Saturday night has rewards and risks. The reward is that it gives the event prominence and a large casual crowd. The risk is that if you do not engage with the casuals, a boozy Saturday crowd can be difficult to tame. Fortunately, Wolverhampton based poet Jane James, who opened proceedings, is a seasoned accomplished performer who delivered an accessible, crowd pleasing sequence, which set the tone, and standard for the evening.
Much Wenlock is only 22 miles away and is the ideological birthplace of the modern Olympics. In this year of the London Olympics it was fitting that the local Bridgnorth Writers should compose a piece to celebrate the coming together of the past and present.
Dave Bingham, Paul and Linda Francis entitled it The Olympians and traced the history of the modern Olympic movement from its local roots in poetry and prose. Well written, and well presented, it contained many memorable vignettes of fact and incident.
However they may well have been better advised to have split the lengthy performance in two, in order that the interest of the casuals could have been better retained.
Performing open mic at an occasion like this is no easy task. The performer has no idea in advance of the size, age and social profile of the audience, or the physical format of the seating arrangements.
ENGAGE THE CASUALS
ENGAGE THE CASUALS
Here the audience was split. Under the gazebo, the predominantly older, poetic cognoscenti gathered. In the rest of the beer garden the, predominantly younger, casuals gathered. The deal is simple. If you engage the casuals, they settle and listen, if you don’t, they chatter and drink beer, loudly. Most poets succeeded in the former.
Jack Edwards charmed with his youthful effervescence, Sam Hunt landed two knock-out blows, then retired, Adrian Perks espoused the joys of women’s clothes, whilst Janet Smith demonstrated that it is possible to perform fine, serious poetry to a mixed crowd, and carry them, if you keep it tight and direct, and always have one eye on audience response.
Three performers deserve special mention. Deborah Alma had not intended to read, but with the event due to start, and several performers still en route, found herself reading anyway.
Absurdly self –deprecating in manner, she was a delight. At the evening’s end, Gareth Owen bravely closed the show as the rain beat down (of which more shortly). A very good poet, he eschewed vanity and performed a short pithy set in a triumph of professionalism and common sense.
I look forwards to hearing him again in less pressing circumstances. Those pressing circumstances? The penultimate poet was Liz Lefroy a local poetic luminary, and someone who is always worth listening to. However this time she performed accompanied.
Accompanied by driving rain. At first the patter of rain on canvas has a hypnotic seductive quality. However when rivulets of water periodically cascade onto lighting cables, sockets and amplification equipment, the concept of an electrifying performance transforms from the metaphorical, to the potential for actual!
Somehow Liz carried on wonderfully with defiant insouciance to the risk of blackout and explosion. She is definitely someone to have around in a crisis. Her opening poem? Pretending the Weather.
Not that the wet and risk of electrocution in any
way spoiled the event. The rain did not dampen spirits, and a spot of
danger is essential to good poetry. All concerned are to be
congratulated on a successful and well-attended occasion which hopefully
will provide the basis for future poetry at the Fringe Festival.
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
When booking my ticket for Being Human I made a decision that I would not look at any reviews so that my perception of it would not be pre determined or influenced.
Being Human has a perfectly apt title; it is performed by three actors, each covering the multitudes of life experiences in two parts which last just over 90 minutes.
The time passes quickly yet leaves you feeling you have witnessed something epic on a human level. This is not three actors reading poem after poem and its greatest achievement is changing the perceptions of people who deem or stigmatise poetry as something exclusive to intellectuals in corduroy drinking crème de menthe in oak veneered rooms congratulating each other on their cleverness.
The effectiveness of Being Human is that it has a beginning, middle and an end, strong protagonists you care about, and most importantly the poems are connected to a narrative making them accessible and tangible.
Poetry is merely the stealth component of the play, it hides in the intimate colloquialisms of the subjects covered, love, loss, old age, happiness, parenthood, abandonment, identity and many more.
It is these subjects that become the props, there is no orchestra, no special effects or pyrotechnics just beautiful and dramatic language delivered by three competent actors (messengers) who are clearly connected to the language, themselves and the audience.
The subjects covered serve as a mirror where we can see a part of ourselves in all or some of the experiences covered. All of us at times feel complex and at some point find it hard to articulate ourselves, Being Human offers a life thesaurus of perspective, it suggests not tells, it talks to you not at you and importantly it yarns the fabric of human nature into our naked and native selves; vulnerable, flawed, gifted, worth celebrating, it validates the very best and worst of ourselves.
The three actors consummately engaged with the audience and were very earnest. One lady watching summed it up by saying ‘It helped me understand the poetry so much that I decided to buy a copy and get that head start’.
Being Human evolves poetry; the play adds dimensions a book or kindle cannot do. It serves up poetry as a common genre, co existing outside the niche of it just belonging to poets. Intended or not this makes Being Human a revelation that should be supported, celebrated and sustained.
The one minor criticism was the war section covered. In these violent times I understand that we are bombarded with news on conflict and loss but I felt that the light hearted slant to this of wars usefulness missed the mark offering something shallow to say about something that has so much depth.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend this play to anyone and commend the production for its impact and inspirational values that transcend poetry back to where it belongs – to ALL of us. 23-06-12
Antony R Owen
Antony R Owen is an award-winning poet from Coventry, with two published collections, My Fathers Eyes Were Blue and The Dreaded Boy.
Being Human next plays at the Ledbury Festival on 1/7/12, and tours nationwide for the remainder of the year. For details: http://livepoetry.org/dates-venues/
Boars Head Gallery, Kidderminster
The Worcester Literary Festival is a glorious alchemy of the arts which tonight found its expression in the debut performance of The Vaginellas in a typically bold promotion.
No-one knew who the Vaginellas were, how many of them there were, what their material was going to comprise, or what their manifesto was. But curiosity is a powerful thing, and a good-sized crowd turned out to find out at a venue which is rapidly becoming the cultural epicentre of the town.
An open mic section preceded the Vaginellas sets which were divided into two halves. Katy Wareham Morris was confident, strident, and read a rather good poem in the style of the American Beat poets, followed by Jodie Lea Ford who found her voice with Tits.
I should declare a professional poetic relationship with Amy Rainbow before declaring also that she was on fabulous form. The C Word is clever, amusing and invariably catches the audience out with its last line volta.
Yet it was her serious date rape poem which stood out for me. Her customary chiming rhyme beguilingly mirrors the specious seduction before the event. It is didactic, but not hectoring. It reaches out to a male audience, but is uncompromising in its message.
It is very good. Although Myfanwy Fox is a regular performer on the local circuit, I never tire of hearing her. Forty Love and OAP sparkled. Like Victoria Wood she has the ability to savour the risqué whilst making it all seem fine because it is done with such poise.
I always enjoy hearing new performers. Delphine de Noire was hitherto unknown to me, but made quite an impression. With her jet-black hair, flowing black dress, bright red lipstick, and pronounced eye make- up, she clearly revels in an image that has something about the night swirling around her.
She could easily have been transported from Andy Warhol’s Factory circa 1969, a world inhabited by the likes of Candy Darling, Nico, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. So I was wholly unsurprised when her first poem was entitled, Morphine Dream, then followed by Bathsheba. Dark, atmospheric and mysterious it was as if Jim Morrison and Grace Slick had been re-incarnated for a trippy poetic journey. I have no idea what much of it was about – but I loved it.
Another pleasure of reviewing is watching performers blossom. When I first met Sarah Tamar a couple of years ago her talent was obvious, but she was just making her early tentative steps onto the circuit.
Now she co-hosts Mouth and music with assurance and authority, qualities that she brought to her performance, along with some memorable lines. She described the end game of a failed relationship as leaving “Love gasping like a dying fish” and the sex as, “ star-crossed permafrost”. Ouch!
Which brings me to the main event, the Vaginellas, whom I can now reveal comprise Jenny Hope, Ruth Stacey, Sarah James and, all the way from Salford, Manchester, Jo Langton, with additional material from Catherine Crosswell who was not performing this time.
Their material? A joyous concoction of fun, feminism, sauce and seriousness. The writing was tight and engaging. No subject, weighty or risqué was out of bounds, but it was always delivered with spades of self-deprecating humour or conviction, depending upon the subject.
Ruth Stacey drew upon Germaine Greer’s celebration, and reclaiming, of the word “cunt” in a way that was both a delight, and a demonstration of the power it still holds. Sarah James celebrated men’s testicles, bemoaning their unavailability in supermarket fruit sections, leaving me both smiling, and sitting rather uneasily!
The phenomena of men “enjoying” ladies lingerie is well documented, the reverse less so. Jo Langton’ s homage to the pleasures of wearing men’s boxer shorts was therefore an unexpected, and particular, delight.
The Vaginellas rotated and swapped performance with an ease, confidence, and efficiency which were a tribute to their professionalism bearing in mind this was their first outing. That rotation allowed for moods and topics to be switched quickly, and Jenny Hopes powerful protest against female circumcision, Cutting the Rose, was no less resonant and impactful than the good humour which was never far away.
The Vaginellas performance was a triumph and are a second force for women’s ensemble poetry in the region with the Decadent Divas having first blazed the trail. What I found exciting was that they are approaching the genre from a different place; the Decadent Divas are gossiping in the parlour, the Vaginellas are in the bedroom! How I would love to see a bill with both groups performing.
Rarely have I attended an evening with such a positive reaction from both audience, and performers, alike. As an unknown quantity, there were few men in the audience; those who were unsure missed a real treat. The Vaginellas material is all embracing, inviting women, and men, to laugh, and reflect, with them. Why should women have all the fun to themselves?
The Worcester Literary Festival
to 24-06-12 .
Worcester Literary Festival Special, Little Venice, Worcester
This Parole Parlate special was billed as a “Best of” the years performers, and sure enough the year’s poetic troubadours turned out in force to celebrate, and support, Worcestershire’s longest running Poetry event.
A triumvirate of Poet Laureates were on show from different eras, and counties. Pride of place must go to the newest laureate, Maggie Doyle, who was crowned Worcestershire Poet Laureate at a Worcester Literary Festival ceremony last Friday, and was positively beaming, and rightly so.
Not only has she put in the hard yards across the Midlands but she has also been involved in the pioneering Decadent Divas, and continues to be an active member of poetry collective, “Write Down Speak Up”. She is going to be a busy girl!
Maggie will undoubtedly be a popular choice. Tonight she gave us self-deprecating humour about slimming in A Certain Type of Loss; she risked the wrath of Her Majesty with Duty Calls, a humorous tale of errant corgis, but showed her serious writing side with Diamonds, which was neat, poignant, and satisfying.
Current Birmingham Poet Laureate Jan Watts is in the latter stages of her year and is clearly relishing it, and making the most of every opportunity. It is her versatility which impresses, whether it is a vignette about an officious Greek Hotelier, or her re-imagining a Lunar Society meeting with women rather than men.
Everyday tasks such as cleaning do not escape her poetic pen, and she has a pantoum for every day and occasion. She has blazed a trail for female laureates, Maggie will I am sure be examining the ingredients which have made Jan’s year such a success. Oh, and she did that poem about supermarkets . . .
ONE BILLION PEOPLE
ONE BILLION PEOPLE
Past Birmingham Poet Laureate Julie Boden was making a welcome appearance celebrating her inclusion in Seven Leaves, One Autumn, by Indian Publisher, Rajkamal Prakashan Pvt. Ltd. This is a typically shrewd move by Julie, why restrict yourself to the English market, when there is a population of one billion people to go for in India?
All the poems are written in English, other contributors come from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Spain and the USA. Eight of her poems were included in the collection, she read four, all of which shone as worthy contributions to the book, and which deservedly represent England. She should be proud. We all had a warm feeling of shared pride for her.
Julie also featured in a choral ensemble which wrote and performed in the day, a poem inspired by Worcester, accompanied by Sarah James, Lindsay Stanberry Flynn, Maggie Doyle and workshop leader, David Calcutt. Unsurprisingly with that talent, it was rather good, and served as a reminder to all poets of how much can be achieved in relatively little time if you put your mind to it.
Typically, the balance of the bill was wildly eclectic. Al Barz was accompanied by his keyboard for the crowd pleasing Leonora, Amy Rainbow was joined by a bloke in a jacket as she waltzed through Words and Oats with her customary aplomb and a rather sexy faux Brummie accent for the latter poem.
Mo the Peoples’ Nun talked a lot about God, whilst Chardonnay Jade, just seventeen years old, held her own against some very experienced company. She wrote with endearing honesty and wit, and I look forwards to hearing more of her. Suz Winspear appeared in her Gothic splendour to perform her now accomplished well-oiled set, and fellow regular Chris Kingsley told of Muppets, in an amusing duo.
Opening the evening was Dori Kirchmair performing Resonance, a short story about connecting with what resonates with you, what feels truly right for you; where you align with your self – your own truth.
This was illustrated by three pictures which appeared to show a Japanese flag defaced by a cats claw mark, a wobbly tyre tread, and some threads of cotton, respectively. Unfortunately none of these images resonated with me, leaving me feeling somewhat disconnected, which in a piece about connection, was a problem. I think that I need to hear it again.
Nevertheless it made its contribution to a night of content which was as varied as it was enjoyable.
Parole Parlate returns on July 5th, the Worcester Literary Festival to 24-06-12.
Fancy A Double
Malvern Cube, Malvern
A Worcester Literary Festival Event
In this year of the Diamond Jubilee there has been much talk about defining what makes Great Britain “great”, and the English “English”, a task whose aim is as elusive as the Holy Grail, I fear.
But in Malvern, nestling in streets which cling to the lower slopes of the hills, I think there may be as good a representation of the idea as anything; last night it was to be found at Malvern Cube, formerly Malvern Youth Centre, at Fancy a Double, part of the Worcester Literary Festival.
Now it could have been formerly Malvern Youth Centre in a physical sense, rather than in nomenclature, if it had not been for the sterling efforts of the locals, many of whom were present for the show, to keep it open, and it is such events as this which justify its existence.
A pile of rubble and a new housing estate (as was threatened) would have been a poor replacement.
If aliens from outer space had called in to see what this cultural form was, they would probably have been baffled, keyed in Alpha Centauri into the satnav, and hit warp factor 9 pronto – and we would not want it any other way.
Master of ceremonies was a man variously dressed as a Crusader Knight and Dave Lee Travis circa 1972, Jai Hill. Jai was the consummate host, linking acts, telling jokes and the odd poem, and pouring pints of beer down a funnel into the throat of an audience member whilst reciting Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson would have approved.
CARROT AND CELLO
First up were Tim Cranmore and Robyn. Tim was on carrot. Robyn was on cello. To others this may have seemed odd; in Malvern the concern was merely of how you tune a carrot. That mystery was never solved, but we were treated to a unique (never has the word been more appropriate) coming together of carrot and cello in ways that hitherto have certainly not been explored by anyone else.
Tim’s discovery, and translation of, an unknown Dead Sea Scroll concealed in a watering can, was as much a revelation in performance as it will be to religious authorities.
The National Anthem was played with a vigour and panache which left me astonished that Tim and Robyn’s services had not been called upon earlier on in the day, at Horse Guards Parade, for the Trooping of the Colour in front of Her Majesty in person. Tim was as phlegmatic as ever, Robyn tried to keep a straight face – it was great fun.
Closing the first half were the Very Grimm Brothers, AKA Adrian Mealing and John Denton, who occasionally leave their baronial castle to entertain the hoi polloi.
It is a wonderful act. Adrian is on voice and personality; John is on guitar and long suffering non-personality. Adrian has all the fun, but John’s deadpan foil is vital to a performance which takes in a tribute to Gill Scott Heron, student fees, and nude wrestling in front of an open fire to while away the long winter nights. Finely nuanced, very well written, and skillfully accompanied by John, it was a rousing finale to the first half.
I am not in the habit of reviewing performances in which I have been involved, but face a difficulty here, as the third act was The Imperfect Pair, of whom I am one half, and Amy Rainbow is the other. Suffice to say that I was the “Im” bit, and Amy was the “Perfect” bit.
Lindsey Warnes- Carroll and Catherine Crosswell wrapped up the night with an act that combined part spoken word duet, part a capella singing, part acoustically accompanied performance, and a finale with a backing track. The material focused on genitalia and bodily functions, but was of course done in the best possible taste, with a nod and a wink and a smile, oh, and gales of laughter!
I had not previously considered the lyrical potential of cervical smears and lollipop sticks, fortunately, Catherine and Lindsey have, as they careered through a set list whose order was determined by the audience and a crocodile’s mouth. The audience loved it, demanding a well-deserved encore which turned out to be a surreally literal re-interpretation of Waterloo.
Fancy a Double delivered a double strength dose of entertainment for the first Saturday of the Worcester Literary Festival, with much more to come until it closes on 24th June, details: http://www.worcslitfest.com/ 17-06-12
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton
It was a night, and a pub, divided. You were either at home or downstairs watching England play Sweden in the Euro 2012 football tournament, or upstairs savouring the best of Burton Spoken Word whilst trying to judge what the score was by the cheers and groans emanating from the public bar.
Such is the pull of host Gary Carr that he still pulled the faithful to listen and perform, despite the lure of Roy Hodgson’s finest. Strangely, a musical theme unfolded.
All Around My Hat (Steeleye Span): Terri and Ray Jolland produced their now obligatory comic sketch, this time name-checking all the poets present – with the ubiquitous hat.
Street Fighting Man (Rolling Stones): When Paris burned with student protest in 1968 and barricades blocked Haussmann’s boulevards, Ray Jolland was there in the city. As some battled with the CRS, the American Embassy was besieged with Vietnam War protesters, and the country ground to a halt with national strikes, Ray decided to write some poetry – and very good it was too.
Let the Children Play (Santana): Rob Stevens reminisced of the golden age of his childhood playing football and cricket in the streets and open spaces, the latter of which extended to four day Tests!
Going Underground The Jam): Mal Dewhirst name is mud, his life in ruins, as he told of his exciting new project “Dig the Abbey” in which Polesworth Abbey will see more archaeological excavation this summer combined with a poetry project and workshops to celebrate both the initiative and the results. More information at: http://www.digtheabbey.co.uk/
The Curtain Falls (Bobby Darin): Inevitably Mal could also not resist celebrating the triumph of the recent production of The Wall at Tamworth for which his poetry sat easily alongside Roger Water’s better-known lyrics.
Milk and Alcohol (Dr Feelgood): There is no obligation to perform original material. Tom Wyre elected to read the prologue to Under Milk Wood. Its sonorous lyricism never fails to delight.
From a Whisper to a Scream (Elvis Costello): Dwayne Read his most diversely written, and performed, material to date starting off with the reflective quiet, Shouting House before closing with a trademark bellow.
The Sting (The Entertainer - Scott Joplin): The decline in bees and the pollination of flowers is not the obvious basis for poetic inspiration, but when you specialise in nature poems it is like nectar, and Janet Jenkins wrote precisely on this theme to satisfying effect.
Guiding Light (Television): Host Gary Carr, as always lead the evening with a strong sense of direction, but a soft touch with some customarily economical and well crafted poetry of his own thrown in.
Spoken Worlds next plays on Friday 20 July.
The Assembly Rooms, Tamworth
This venerable venue has a distinguished history. Grade II listed, it was built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
One hundred and twenty five years later, the week of the current Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, it hosted a new production of Pink Floyd’s The Wall on the stage where the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles had once performed.
The production was an ambitious collaboration between Arts Connect, Tamworth Borough Council, and the Fired Up Theatre Company to realise a show that combined the talents of musical and theatre professionals with community and school groups.
Director Simon Quinn promised not to produce a nostalgia show, and succeeded, bravely electing to update the themes of alienation and social disintegration into a Tamworth setting with a well-crafted script.
Assistant Director Mal Dewhirst had the onerous task of integrating fresh original contemporary poetry composed by himself and Antony R Owen, daringly he also included an audio of vox pops, recorded at Tamworth Cafes on the theme of The Wall which worked seamlessly well.
As both an introduction to the themes of the show, and a theatrical overture, the Shoebox Theatre staged Brickbuilding the Wall led by Margaret Jackman before the main event in an engaging intergenerational piece.
Any staging of The Wall depends upon a solid musical base, which for this production was provided by Chesterfield based Pink Floyd tribute band Floydian Slip. They were magnificent. Despite having to learn new arrangements and incorporate an extra guitarist, the sound was authentic, convincing, and combined a spontaneous feel whilst staying faithful to the original score without being a slave to it.
Two numbers always dominate this show, Another Brick in the Wall and Comfortably Numb. The former boasted a fiendishly complicated extended arrangement which they delivered with some aplomb, complete with a raging, grotesque, outsized puppet schoolmaster rising from the flanks of the stage apron.
The latter boasts one of the most famous guitar solos in rock history defined by Dave Gilmour.
Prior to embarking upon it I saw lead guitarist Andy Ashley mop his brow, as if to acknowledge that this was the musical make or break moment of the show.
He made it with much to spare, as the glitter ball rotated, the lasers flickered and his solo succeeded in touching the ethereal heights which simply must be scaled for the number to work.
The lead character, Pink, was played by Luke Comley who ably led the theatrical ensemble despite the difficulties of having to synchronise with lead vocalist Mark Peterson of Floydian Slip whilst having his back to him.
Choreographer Ami Radcliffe did a first class job of combining a core of experienced dancers with an auxiliary dancing and chorus cast of school children from Two Gates primary school in Tamworth, who enjoyed their moment in the sun with the “Brick in the Wall” chorus.
Gareth Pugh seemed to enjoy playing the pompous schoolteacher in that scene as much as we enjoyed watching him. The choreographic set piece for Hey You was particularly effective with the girl’s colour splash tights contributing to a kaleidoscopic visual delight.
Mal Dewhirst composed no fewer than seven original poems for the production of which Thin Ice was the pick of the bunch. Antony R Owen contributed two poems from his collection The Dreaded Boy with the references to Afghanistan giving the words immediacy as he delivered his work via a video recorded backdrop.
It was a terrific production which Director Simon Quinn did well to realise with so many disparate parts to draw together.
Although Another Brick in the Wall and Comfortably Numb were the showstoppers of the first and second half respectively an honourable mention should also go to the performance of Mother in which the band were on fine form, the dance fitted perfectly and a touching montage of real life Tamworth mothers was projected onto the back screen – a nice touch.
As a veteran Pink Floyd fan who grew up to their music I am delighted to confirm that the music and production did justice to the original conception whilst updating and contemporising it for a 21st century audience. 06-06-12
Rhymes Polyvocal Special
Station Pub, Kings Heath
RHYMES, previously a worthy and popular regular event on the Brum poetry circuit, now appears occasionally under the curatorship of poetry Svengali Lorna Meehan, and is as special in its irregular form as it was when it ran regularly.
Tonight it was back for a welcome one-off poly-vocal special, featuring an eclectic mix of poets, but with an added element of group poetry, including the National Team Poetry Slams Birmingham team before they compete in Bristol on the 28th June.
Past Birmingham Poet Laureate Spoz hosted the night, current Birmingham Poet Laureate Jan Watts graced the evening with some well chosen poetic contributions, and of course Lorna could not stop performing the odd poetic gem herself, but the focus of the evening was on emerging talent, and rightly so.
Kate Walton is making rapid progress since I first saw her perform a few months ago at Poetry Bites. She has been hitting the circuit with enthusiasm, and learning fast. She performed three extended, quite different pieces; a humorous tale of grim deeds in Melton Mowbray, a dark serious tragedy of joyriding, and a light engaging account of when she met Carly Simon.
She has the ability of a storyteller to hold an audience during an extended poem with rhymes that chime rather than grate. A warm personality and strong material will make her a formidable force on the slam circuit, and beyond, in the near future.
Elisha Owen gave a confident and exact performance of Flamenco Dance in Peckham before being joined by Ben Norris for a very clever duet using clicking fingers to replicate everything from time to drips. A duet presentation was used again when Claire Corfield joined forces with Lorna Meehan for a very funny comedy sketch in verse about Spain.
Both are accomplished actresses, poets and comediennes, all three skills were utilised to fine effect. The Worcestershire Young Poet Laureate Laura Deadicoat was on hand to give what must be one of her final performances in office.
Unsurprisingly her stagecraft has matured over the year and she performed three favourites to an appreciative crowd. From a distance I saw a poet on the cusp, performing good material written as a school student, but bursting to emulate the development that the university undergraduate sourced slam team had on show.
The Birmingham Slam Team performed individually, and collectively, with Ben Norris excelling with F-Bomb, which I suspect will become a signature poem for him. Ostensibly inspired by the silent displeasure of a Much Wenlock poetry audience who did not care much for profanity, like all good poems it quickly broadened to say much more.
He did so with wit and depth. Hannah Owen – Wright took us on a surreal trip on a bus in which it became a capsule, and a destination which I suspect was not on the authorised route. Completing the team trio was Rehema Njambi who offered a wholly different more personal and soulful dimension to the group, epitomised by her piece about her younger brother, emotionally honest, but never maudlin.
They finished by performing their collective poly-vocal slam entry as a trio which spoke wonderfully of intergalactic time travel and impressed me, without me being entirely sure what it was all about!
Jan Watts spoke generously of the calibre of the talent that performed on the night. It was no platitude. Each slam poet boasted talent and identity, and inspired me with their brio and innovation. Good luck in Bristol! O5-06-12
The Feathers Hotel, Ledbury
On Saturday night I saw Tony Harrison read in Ledbury, Herefordshire.
He is one of our best living poets. He writes in an utterly English tradition, with strong rhymes and lyrical content. Much of it is written for the stage, so it is entirely aural as well as having integrity on the page.
Harrison lays full claim to both his own working-class Leeds voice, and to Greek classic literature, and he owns them both from the inside; not with a chippy sense of having something to prove (though there is that too, sometimes) but with a deep, abiding understanding of their sense and necessity.
This reading also showed that poetry in performance can be done well without stagecraft. Some people equate 'performing poetry' with slick-and-speedy performance poetry; Tony Harrison read with a quiet, commanding clarity and humour which carried the audience through an hour-long reading. Not a murmur was heard, not a bum shifted on its seat.
So this us the kind of authenticity that we're all working for when we write, no matter what it is we are trying to be true to. I was proud that a writer like Harrison can thrive in our literary culture, and receive (as he did) a standing ovation from an audience which knows his worth. I was ashamed - a little - that my own writing falls into traps that he's worked so hard to avoid.
Dear reader, here is my terrible secret. I want you to think I'm clever and witty. I want you to admire my writing and tell me it moved you. I want to blush modestly whilst claiming enormous literary prizes.
All poets have secrets like this. Yet the biggest challenge in writing, the only one that really matters, is the one that EE Cummings articulated in 1958: "To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." If you can achieve that, then the other stuff may follow. If it doesn't, it hardly matters.
I find my own voice in poetry best by working in tandem with someone else; by working out what I'm not, perhaps. The collaboration with Martin Malone continues to amaze me by sending us both in new directions; smaller paired projects have sometimes done the same. I'm working now on a poem for Alastair Cook - and perhaps the ultimate collaborative project, 3hundredand65, will get its little contribution from me on National Poetry Day, October 4th.
Back in Ledbury, the famous poetry festival is three weeks away. Last year I programmed it with Jonathan Davidson: in 2012, director Chloe Garner is back from maternity leave with a brilliant programme. Come along and see us there; a little town full of poetry, in the summer. What's not to like? 03-06-12
Jo Bell is Director of National Poetry Day and a programme director for the Ledbury Festival. Her acclaimed collection “Navigation” is available from her website, The Bell Jar, in which the above review first appeared. http://belljarblog.wordpress.com/poems-films-sound/
Word & Sound
Art House Cafe, Worcester
Amanda Bonnick and Jenny Hope, the promoters of this event, last gave it an outing in 2011 and have now moved it from a cellar bar in to the modern environment of the Art House Cafe.
The format is open mic spoken word, sign up on the night, with some music thrown in. However these ladies have been around a bit, and know not to take a chance on who might just turn up by making some tactical invitations in advance, thereby ensuring a strong core platform of talent for the evening.
What struck me was the diversity of form for the evening - poetry, verse storytelling, drama, polemic, acoustic band and a classical guitarist all made an appearance.
The cafe itself is light and airy with a low ceiling overhang that amplified the performer’s voice and a good range of food and drink to satisfy an always discerning poetry crowd that had turned out in some force, a testament to the pulling power of Amanda and Jenny.
Indeed some had travelled from as far as Burton upon Trent and Birmingham to support the event. Amanda and Jenny took it in turns to present, leaving precious little time for them to showcase their own considerable poetic skills.
Two new young female poets caught my ear, Holly Magill and Claire Walker. Holly read quirky bedsit poetry with a racy frisson running through it, Claire read short neat compact concise pieces.
Both offered interesting perspectives on their subject matter, whether it was Holly and the sensual properties of cardigans, or Claire and her beguiling, slightly sinister The Woman who Loved Every Man, with the great opener, “I collect them.” Both should also take confidence from an enthusiastic reception, and build on their performance and projection of some strong material.
Michael W. Thomas is a poet, novelist and playwright who has lived, been widely published, and performed, in several countries. His literary credentials are formidable, and stretch from Finland, to Florida and back to Albania, where he vies with Norman Wisdom for the international affections of the Albanian people.
He now lives in Worcestershire. I last saw him perform at Shindig in Leicester. Once again I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. His tone is fond and gentle. He reminisced over a childhood teacher in Mrs Wharton, and the crap cars he had travelled in as a child. His lament over the word “especial” was never maudlin, his exploration of mental illness sensitive and moving.
One of the joys of these events is in meeting distinguished writers. Happenstance found me sat next to Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn. Her novel Unravelling was published in 2010. It won the Chapter One Promotions Book Award and came second in the International Rubery Book Award.
Her novel ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ will be published by Cinnamon Press in 2013. She also runs creative writing courses and workshops. Tonight she read a drama which had been performed on BBC Radio Nottingham, They said There Would Be Silence – a bleak, powerful and compelling mini drama about an incoming telephone call to the Samaritans in which the caller announces that he will kill himself in three minutes.
It was a clever dramatic device, well crafted, and an object lesson in economic writing. I reflected that I needed to practice!
Two regular performers on the Worcestershire circuit acquitted themselves well. From Great Wyrley, Ian Ward, progressed along a now very well rehearsed set from the song title laden Delta Devil Blues to his signature Rumble in the Woods. Worcester Goth, Suz Winspear, wearing a dress which was a glorious riot of black taffeta and lace, reprised the arboreal theme with an excellent version of her trademark Evil Trees.
Lisa Ventura took a rest from hosting Parole Parlate, Gary Carr from identical duties with Spoken Worlds, to relax and perform for a change. Both demonstrably enjoyed themselves. Lisa railed against the idea that all Italians like hot weather in light knockabout mode.
AMUSE AND ENTERTAIN
AMUSE AND ENTERTAIN
Gary delivered a quick-fire selection of short poems, each one unerringly finding its mark. Myfanwy Fox is always great fun, and did not let us down, taking time out from Wildfire World, a title she is so devoted to she even took a copy with her on stage, to amuse and entertain with her waspish wit, best showcased in The Birdie Song.
I remarked earlier that one of the drawbacks about hosting events is that inevitably one’s own poetry takes a back seat, however when you are as talented as Amanda Bonnick you simply front a band yourself, in this case “Slow Train”.
Daringly, they opened the second half with the plaintive Goffin/King composition Will You Still Love me Tomorrow which some American radio stations banned on release because they had felt the lyrics were too sexually charged - but clearly in Worcester anything goes!
Please Don’t let me be Misunderstood was my favourite though, combining a vocal delivery familiar to the Nina Simone version, but a musical arrangement more akin to the Elvis Costello cover, with a neat flute motif played by Matt Brockington, who subsequently performed a solo polemic spot.
The theme of variety dominated the second half. Naomi Paul cleverly combined stand-up comedy, poetry and music, Al Barz performed a wonderful poem with flashcards and, Ian Glass enthralled and entertained with his poetic narrative ballad How the Duvet Monster Got His Name.
To close Colin Baggs delivered an instrumental tour de force of classical, flamenco-tinged guitar with energy, passion, driving rhythms and beautiful melodies. It seemed only a short while previous that Sophia Dimmock had confidently opened proceedings with her poetry, yet two and a half hours had flown by.
Word and Sound is likely to next play in September, check out the Facebook page for details. 02-06-12
Persian Poetry Evening
Barber Institute, Birmingham University
As well as for the love of poetry, generally, I was excited about the Persian Poetry night because, as a reader of Rumi, I wanted to augment my previous experience of Persian poetry with exposure to some contemporary poets. Plus, of course, it was at The Barber Institute.
Shamefully, for a Birmingham resident, I admit that this was only my first visit to The Barber. But in the stay-at-home rain, it seemed an art deco sanctuary. I loved its broad beauty and the wide corridors with their heel-spike-dents in the tiles and I loved sitting on the polished bench waiting, chatter echoing along the long, bright hall.
The lecture theatre we were ushered into was, my friend commented, ‘like an old classroom’ with its cushioned, tiered pews and echoing creaks and shuffles. The sense of the past juxtaposed with the now so neatly illustrated, I thought, in the electric light of images of historical artefacts projected onto the stage backdrop. And in that light, there was the charm of poets standing, a little awkwardly, arm on hip at times, squinting to read. The lighting was quickly modified, however, when a member of the audience asked for more light on the poets, adding an endearing informality to this relatively large gathering.
As a regular visitor to performance poetry nights with all their sound and fury, it was refreshing for me to experience just the reading of poetry in its simplicity and elegance; just a poet on the stage, just the words read from the page.
And as for hearing it in its original language first- I always enjoy the musicality and regressive comfort of poetry in an unknown tongue but the warm and breathy consonants and glottal vowels of Persian idiom spoke whispers to my mind of a cultural history beyond my comprehension: perhaps even, indulged a tentative inquiry into that Exotic Other.
Unusually, we heard some of the poems in translation first, too, which enabled a wholly different interaction with the meaning, the sounds and we, the audience. The variety of order added pace and range to the evening.
As for the poetry; it was historical, tense, at times physical, at times enchanting and all three poets’ works imbued with longing, I felt. Or perhaps that is my reading of the work- the absence of a place felt keenly, a place sketched with detail and shaded with omission. Death and childhood, love and separation were all covered. As I have lived and worked in the Middle East, it was special to me that the two poets present and reading their own work, Azita Ghahreman from Iran and Shakila Azizzada from Afghanistan, were women. Most notably because they honestly explored issues which are perhaps unexpected from women in their countries of origin; erotic love and longing, for example. One poem I have had to look up and will keep returning to particularly is Azizzada’s Cat Lying in Wait (http://www.poetrytranslation.org/poems/369/Cat_Lying_in_Wait).
Who knows about the truthfulness of the
translation? I can only say the translations worked for me. I can only
know what I saw, what I felt, as the sounds wrapped around my
understanding and folded it into meaning. In the (seemingly impromptu)
audience discussion afterwards, I was pleased to note there were at
least two bilingual people who were able to feedback positively on the
poetry and translation. But in the end, like with all poetry, translated
or otherwise, it is our own interpretation and experience that counts
and for me it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. 09-05-12
Elizabeth Charis is a teacher and poet who has travelled and worked widely around the world, most recently teaching in Syria. Her website is: http://echaris.co.uk/
This review first appeared in: http://www.writingwestmidlands.org/2012/05/21/guest-blog-persian-poetry-evening-by-elisabeth-charis/
Leicester Central Library
If Leicester Libraries’ Book Doc Alison Dunne hadn’t shared Thursday’s event on facebook, I’d have missed it – so glad I didn’t! An evening of poetry with belly laughs.
The Barnsley Bard set the mood with his own introduction (to Alison’s welcome). Taking a literal view of poets as collectors of language, as writers who take notice, he took great pride in showing his audience numerous notices he’d purloined on his travels; the unintentionally humorous, sparks that light this poet’s fire.
Master of the anecdotal, McMillan regaled us
with hilarious tales of his travels as a working poet. With references
to Crackerjack’s Peter Glaze and novelty cruet sets, I warmed to him
even more. His Junior School days sounded just like mine, too: when kids
were encouraged to be creative, spent hours writing stories, engaging in
art activities (happy days . . .), but I digress. Ian read poems
from his autobiographical collection, Talking Myself Home.
Borrowed, read, loved it.Why make it up, when amazing things happen to us all the time?
A recurrent theme; the poet explained the provenance of certain lines in
his poems (oh, but his art lies in the crafting). He invited poets to
note down all the things that happened when they got home that night and
laid odds on them being the stuff poems are borne out of. (My black cat
froze – in a paper fiesta, she’d edited the newspaper . . .).
Jayne Stanton is a poet and reviewer based in
Leicestershire. This review first appeared in her blog:
Metro cafe, Bilston
Summer finally arrived on a sweltering Black Country evening as the poetry faithful gathered for another instalment of Emma Purshouse’s Bilston Voices.
Emma is something of a poetry evening alchemist, throwing together a disparate concoction of poets, and invariably coming up with something special. Tonight was no exception.
Making her Bilston Voices debut was Michelle Crosbie whom I have caught perform twice previously. As before, she did not disappoint. I believe that from the moment that a poet decides that rather than simply read their work to themselves, they want to read it to others, they have a duty to present and perform it in a way that connects with their audience. Michelle understands this perfectly.
She consciously played to every corner of the room by eye contact and gesture, modulating her voice for effect. She introduced her work informatively, whilst never dulling the pleasure of what was to follow. Oh Dark Pilot Whales was a beautiful hymn to a stranded pod off Scotland, drawing on Norse and Icelandic legend to beguiling effect, Fireworks of Love a dramatic playful performance piece.
However this time it was Swifts that caught my ear, with a particularly striking simile of swifts as fighter planes. Warmly received by an appreciative audience, I hope that Michelle will take this success as a spur to perform more regularly, and more widely.
Writing groups and workshops can be invaluable for nurturing the skills of budding writers and Brian Titton, who followed Michelle, drew upon that experience to perform a diverse range of poems. Fresh from leading some groups herself earlier on in the day, Jane James stepped in at a few hours notice to cover for an indisposed reader. I really enjoy listening to Jane perform. She opened with a prose piece, A Very Guilty Pleasure about the anguish of the chocoholic.
Her dry laconic words belied a very funny, and well delivered, performance piece. Yet it is her versatility that amazes; a poignant tribute to a lost parent, an ode to the joys of salmon fishing, a fisherman’s prayer, an environmental tirade in Don’t and a spiky slam poem Not A lot to Ask are all handled with panache and aplomb. And just as some women have the unerring knack of always having something in their handbag for any eventuality, so Jane seemingly has a poem for every occasion.
After the break Paul Francis appeared, a retired comprehensive school teacher with a meticulous and well crafted approach to his poetry. He opened with his strongest poem, Surveillance, which won a national competition resulting in its permanent display on the side of a bus driving around Guernsey. Its qualities were immediately apparent as were those included in his Olympians collection in anticipation of the forthcoming London Olympics.
It is a truism that the most talented writers are invariably the most modest, this is certainly true of Paul McDonald, of whom I had previously known nothing. Yet as soon as he opened with Shakespeare’s Barred my poetic antennae twitched, here was no ordinary poet. Funny, sharp, economic and engaging in his writing, warm in his disposition he grabbed my attention from the start, and never relaxed his grip till he finished. Upon researching his biography, this comes as no surprise.
Paul was born in Walsall and is an academic, comic novelist, and poet. He teaches English and American Literature at the University of Wolverhampton, where he also runs the Creative and Professional Writing Programme.
He left school to work as a saddlemaker, an occupation that provides the backdrop for his first novel, Surviving Sting (2001).After a period studying with the Open University, McDonald entered fulltime education at Birmingham Polytechnic where he began writing fiction, initially producing stories for the women’s romance market under a female pseudonym.
He later won a scholarship to research a PhD, and in
1994 took an academic post teaching American literature at the
University of Wolverhampton. His second novel, Kiss Me Softly, Amy
Turtle (2004) is a comic mystery satirising the Midlands town of
Walsall while his third, Do I Love You? (2008), takes Northern
Soul as its theme.
Those impressive credentials were evident in everything he performed, each poem couched in a witty self -effacing aside. His modest journey into adulthood was referenced in Real Men from his time as a saddlemaker, his current position amongst the literati providing the perspective for An Author Obsessed with the Hay on Wye Festival. Next time he will not be able to sneak in unnoticed! A tremendous and hugely enjoyable set.
Bilston Voices next meets Tuesday, 28th June at 7.30pm. 25-05-11
Notes from the Underground
The Holly Bush, Cradley Heath
An eclectic night of incisive poetry and musical observations was the theme for the re-launched open mic at this historic Cradley venue.
The Holly Bush event for both poetry and music alike offered a diverse palette of styles held in a cosy, welcoming and informal setting. Organized enthusiastically by two devotees to entertainment in Jack Edwards and William Shatspeare (better known as John!), the night attracted a widespread spectrum of local wordsmiths and musicians watched by an appreciative audience.
Jack Edwards launched the witty
banter with a salvo of comedic moments as he re-enacted his sketch
“Sorry” having an hilarious
dialogue with his girlfriend,
Marcus Taylor then presented us with an accomplished and interesting mix of blues grass folk and country western guitar music reprising artist Hank Williams and also a cover of Bad Moon Rising.
Next up, was the first of “The Worcester Poets” Lisa Ventura who provided a heartfelt piece Blast from the Past and also shared her crystal clear views of “Face book “and Soap TV.
Sue Winspear, whilst battling with the noise from some energetic revellers from the adjoining bar in the other room, stoically persevered with surreal and captivating poems to do with eyeballs on plates, sea voyages and Evil Trees which I particularly liked, showing an almost supernatural take on the role of arboreal life in urban society. I was very struck with Sue’s use of imagery that moved seamlessly from one psychedelic box, to another literary canvas.
Kate Walton, the latest poet to join “The Lichfield Poets” performed an extremely funny and entertaining piece about pork pies and Melton Mowbray with a coy and mischievous slant. Her dark poem, The Old Highway which has a twist in the tale about a murderous joy rider impressed with its tone and rhythm, before finishing off with a vitally raw and colourfully worded poem about her stolen mobile ‘phone. Kate is a young poet who is one to watch out for with her well crafted lines and confident stage presence.
Andrew Owens, also of the Worcester poets read a detailed prose Dancing Apart, about a relationship that had become stagnated and finished with an emotionally driven piece Take My Hand, about preventing a friend’s attempt at suicide.
The resultant calm was broken with an energetic and very amusing set by Long Lost Frank who is a Black Country poet who I enjoyed with his ironic observations and satirical reflections on neighbours, unemployment, taking vehicles without consent, astral travelling and “hallucinogenic trumpets” before performing Uh Thingy, where he substituted the filler words at comedic intervals with side splitting aplomb.
Following a brief interval, a shorter second half for the event commenced with The Bleeding Cat Furs, a young two piece band with interesting self penned songs.
The female vocals were good and the guitar and
ukulele accompaniment was sound,
Chrisy Daz followed as an accomplished singer songwriter with some thought provoking songs. His intelligent lyrics and well composed tunes displayed a degree of gravitas in his work as he played acoustic guitar and I particularly thought that his comic parody of Purple Rain was immensely funny, as did the audience judging by the roaring laughter that ensued!
Next on the bill was one of my favourite poets in
Gary Carr, with his often understated
Al Barz then took to the stage. Al is a veteran performer and armed with an electronic organ, proceeded to have me and the rest of the audience in stitches with his superbly amusing sketches, almost in the musical style of Les Dawson and a 1950’s bingo hall organist; he commented on cucumbers not being for fat people, lager, an excellent and visual piece involving cards with mathematical formulae and relationships, concluding with a wry comment on gravity and returning to Mother Earth. Al is one of those rare people who is a natural comic, conveying a laugh with just a facial expression and I for one think that he should apply to BGT!
A thoroughly enjoyable night was rounded off with
Malcolm Slater and Dave Francis,
A great and most agreeable night was had by all,
helped considerably towards the end as delicious, spicy local bangers
and potato wedges were offered as hot vittles to the eager audience by
the pub’s friendly landlord.“Notes from The
Underground”, next meets at The Holly Bush PH, Cradley on Sat, 9th
June at 8.00pm, free admission, sign up for floor spots on the night.
Tom Wyre is a poet and musician who performs widely across the Midlands.
Western Pub, Leicester
In a pre-show chat Crystal Clear Creator co-director Maria Taylor Shindig described Shindig to me as, “no ordinary open mic”, an aside which pretty much defines this event, and should be its strap-line.
Once again Crystal Clear Creators and Nine Arches Press had assembled a strong and eclectic roster of featured poets and floor readers before another full room for this bi-monthly event, presented by Jane Commane and Jonathan Taylor.
Robert Richardson closed the evening. As well as appearing in CCC’s Hearing Voices, he has been published in Agenda poetry magazine and also co-edited ‘Homage to Imagism’ (AMS Press, New York).
As a visual artist, he was recently included in ‘Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium’ (Reaktion Books, London). Robert has a very distinctive style, arriving on stage with an assortment of bags. In the same way that a seasoned, reliable ,mechanic always has something in their toolkit to correct any mechanical problem you may face, so Bob has a poem tucked away for pretty much any occasion.
His poems are typically short which enables him to also exercise his skills as a raconteur. His eye for detail dovetails seamlessly with his devotion to Imagism, his brevity and wit shines with his epigrams.
Providing an international dimension to the evening was Alistair Noon . Born in 1970 in Aylesbury, he has subsequently spent time in Russia and China, before moving to Berlin where he has lived since the early nineties and works as a translator.
STRENGTHS BY OSMOSIS
STRENGTHS BY OSMOSIS
His poetry and translations from German and Russian have appeared in nine chapbooks from small presses. Earth Records is his first full-length collection. He appears to have assimilated a number of Teutonic strengths by osmosis. His writing is clear, efficient and memorable, doing enough to do the job well ,without unnecessary over elaboration. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Facets of a Soviet Battle Tank which opens with:
Defending Socialism in thirteen states,
it redirected the traffic in Prague;
then, in rows at the Afghan border,
improvised its own car park.
A press-out cardboard piece
for a weeklong board game.
A late addition to the line-up of guest poets was Ira Lightman, replacing Julie Boden who is still recuperating from an illness. We all wish Julie a speedy recovery.
Currently resident in Newcastle upon Tyne, Lightman is a conceptual poet with a particular interest in public art. He regularly appears on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, and has three published collections. Phone in the Roll, (Knives Forks and Spoons Press), uses poems spoken into an imperfect dictation transcriber, which produces misheard transcriptions of the intended text.
Mustard Tart as Lemon , (Red Squirrel Press),draws together work written over 15 years and includes Concrete poetry . Duetcetera, (Shearsman Books), offers twin column poetry which can be read individually, or together, and is written as two voices. He has also been featured on New York based website Ubuweb (www.ubu.com/ubu). To be published on Ubuweb is a considerable feather in his cap, The Sunday Times named it as one of the top ten “benchmark websites” in the world. There are just five UK poets published there, and Lightman is one of them.
I am a fan. His poetry is not always easy, and when performed out loud is sometimes difficult to follow without the text, but it is always interesting ,and pushes at the boundaries of poetic form.
With each poem the audience has no idea what is coming next, best exemplified by Judy Garland which included the most preposterous and imaginative reimagining of Somewhere Over the Rainbow you are ever likely to hear.
C. J. Allen was new to me. His prize-winning poetry (in the Arvon, Yorkshire, Lebdury, Ilkley, Ware, Nottingham & English Association competitions, amongst others) has been appearing in magazines and anthologies in the UK, USA, Ireland & elsewhere for years. His most recent collections are: A Strange Arrangement: New and Selected Poems (Leafe Press, 2007), & Lemonade (a red ceilings press e-book, 2010). Violets – winner of the Templar Press Short Collection Competition – was published in November 2011. He currently edits the reviews pages of the literary magazine Staple.
But tonight he was promoting his new collection At the Oblivion Tea Rooms. Perhaps it was our shared experience of having been apprehended by the river police for transgressing obscure regulations on the Norfolk Broads, but I took an instant liking to Allen’s laconic style, and delivery. Snail Explains endured for me, with its wonderful image of the said Gastropod’s forward progress being akin to that of a Russian novel.
The floor readers offered an embarrassment of riches, I recall by impact, Caroline Cook’s Weekly Workout which was my favourite poem of the night by some way. It’s wry pithy observations on the dark side of poetry workshops were quite wonderful, and deserved a barrelful of applause (although I did have to look up the meaning of vatic!).Jayne Stanton’s homily to tea was a delight, as was Lindsay Waller Wilkinson’s trip to Seaham.
Shindig next meets on 16th July, 7.30pm, free admission, sign up for floor spots on the night. 23-05-12
And from her blog . . .
And from her blog . . .
Always a diary highlight, my abiding favourite regular poetry night out.
Amongst the open mics:
Caroline Cook’s ‘Weekly Workout’ was a wry take on poetry workshops (ah, those inevitable games of Guess the Poet…). Not afraid to experiment with styles and voices, I always look forward to hearing/reading her poems. Richard Byrt’s ‘Coming Out’: wonderful example of ‘less is more.’ I loved the assonance. Jonathan Taylor’s ‘Mozart’s Clarinet Sextet’: hilarious – I want to hear it again! Gary Longden’s ‘Majorca’: a tribute to John Cooper Clarke – rhythm, rhyme and humour. Roy Marshall’s ‘Relic’: an animal bone found on a woodland walk gives rise to contemplating our skeleton and ‘temporary skin’ – haunting last line. Kathy Bell’s ‘Prayers Requested of an Anchorite’ from a sequence of poems, ‘Balance Sheets for Medieval Spinsters.’ Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson’s ‘Seaham’ – I loved this reworking from the original prose for its soundplay and internal rhymes.
C J Allen writes the poems many of us wish we’d written and his reading most certainly did not disappoint. I purchased his newly-launched collection, At the Oblivion Tea-Rooms (Nine Arches Press) and it’s queue-jumped everything on my reading pile.
Alistair Noon’s Earth Records (Nine Arches), also launched this week, is the poet’s debut collection after publishing nine pamphlets. Also a Longbarrow poet.
Ira Lightman, reading in place of Julie Boden, gave a hugely entertaining rendition of poems across several collections as well as new work, amongst which ‘Air on a G String’ was my favourite. (And the poet’s vivid image of his gents’ loo view: t-shirt print John Lennon sporting a urinating appendage from his Adam’s apple, a lasting impression…).
Robert Richardson, Imagist poet and visual artist, closed the evening. I especially enjoyed ‘Prose and Poetry’: the former, justified; the latter, troublesome words that, on release, murder you in your sleep. 21-05-12
Polesworth Abbey, Polesworth
Fizz is a bi-monthly poetry evening held in the august and beautiful surroundings of Polesworth Abbey which this evening was bathed in warm late spring sunshine.
An all pervading sense of goodness radiated everywhere in a setting that Donne, Johnson and Drayton would have recognised, and appreciated, as they would have appreciated the format of a guest poet, and floor readers, with free admission and light refreshments.
If you want a job done, Mal Dewhirst, “Mr Fizz”, is the man to go to it seems. Not content with recent credits which include Nuneaton Poetry Day, The Polesworth Poetry Trail and the upcoming production of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” at Tamworth Assembly Rooms 5th-8th June inclusive, he also announced the creation of the new office of Staffordshire Poet Laureate, more details of which can be found at: http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/leisure/librariesnew/staffordshiresfirstpoetlaureate.aspx
The guest poet for the evening was Margaret Torr who originates from Birkenhead, but is now a regular on the Staffordshire poetry circuit.
MIDDLE AGED RELATIONSHIPS
MIDDLE AGED RELATIONSHIPS
Her work is versatil , accessible and intimate and found its apotheosis in Running Parallel, a wistful but unsentimental look at middle aged relationships and Silent Window, a terrific, tender, brutal examination of deafness. She duetted with Dea Costelloe, she read her contribution to the Polesworth Poetry Trail and she performed a story. Warmly received, it is about time that she put out a pamphlet of her work.
The floor readings were as diverse as ever. Gina Coates read Regrets on behalf of the promising teenage poet Ian Ryan, whilst Dea Costelloe did a solo spot themed on men including Slanging it Out, which she is going to have trouble not performing in the future, so well is it received. Janet Crouch performed the excellent story Zeus’s Spoons.
Music was on hand in the form of Brian Langtry, his guitar, and My Cotton Town, set in Hyde not Alabama, and some half a century in conception. Gary Carr delivered his customary quick-fire blast of poetic quality which this time included Dear Diary and Highlights, which were.
Terri Jolland reminded us that there is more to her than comedy writing with the anguished tale of installing new bedroom furniture and the elegiac Sunshine Hours, a remembrance of her childhood.
Making his Fizzz debut was local John Farmer who delighted the audience not only with his poem Polesworth Now and Then but also with his reminiscences of the penny payment he used to receive for singing in the Abbey Choir over sixty years ago. Closing the evening was Tom Wyre, who strapped us on board for his alliterative rhyming rollercoaster of a set.
Fizz next plays on 24/7 with guest poet Terri Jolland ,and on 25/9 ,with Dea Costelloe and Peter Grey, 7.30pm start. 22-05-12
Old Cottage Tavern, Byrkely St , Burton Upon Trent
This monthly event continues to prosper with a committed core of supporters who never fail to produce an evening of high quality and entertaining poetry in a relaxed and supportive environment.
By chance, several poets chose to dip into their back catalogues for this night’s readings which served as a timely reminder of the depth of material which several poets possessed.
Many poets feel compelled to continue to produce new work because poetry can be a short form, yet revisiting old and sometimes forgotten work can also be rewarding.
Andy Biddulph had been absent for a few months as his time has been diverted helping to fight a legal battle to defend the right of free navigation on some of Britain’s waterways, a right currently under threat.
Traditionally, Andy’s work tends to triumph the trials, tribulations , and triumphs of the common man. However he opened with a surreal piece, loosely themed on endeavour, Solo to Summit, boasting an extended psychedelic prose introduction which Robert Calvert and Hawkwind would have been proud of. Intriguing and other worldly.
In a similarly esoteric vein Tony Keaton decided to name check the ancient question of: “how many angels can dance on the point of a needle?” Dorothy L Sayers concluded that an infinity of angels can be located on the head of a pin, since they do not occupy any space there. Tony took on Sayers and Thomas Aquinas – and won, with his super poem Instructions to Angels. I always enjoy Tony’s readings because whatever subject he decides to tackle, he does so with freshness and brio.
Sometimes familiar faces can surprise. Dea Costelloe invariably produces high quality mainstream poetry delivered with the assurance of a BBC newsreader. Tonight, she travelled from the West End of Shepherds Bush, to the East End of Albert Square and Bow Bells, with her wonderful homily to cockney rhyming slam Slanging It.
FUNNY, FOND AND CLEVER
Dedicated to her father who was a lighterman on the Thames, it was funny, fond and clever as she became Barbera Windsor with a twinkle in her eye, some sauce on her tongue and a wholly convincing cockney accent.
On Tuesday 22nd, Margaret Torr is headlining at Fizz in Polesworth so this was a bit of a warm up appearance. She chose to read a hugely inventive piece in Viking saga style using four letter words. Not only was it a fascinating device, but Margaret also used her storytelling voice to conjure a musical, insistent rhythm to her tale. Brave in conception, successful in execution.
As the 1970’s entered its second half, Punk Rock blazed into the cultural arena laying waste the lazy artistic thinking which dominated ,and clearing space for much fine music which was to follow. But it is seldom remembered that whilst the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers were outraging the nation on the front pages it was the Bee Gees and their disco classic Saturday Night Fever who were dominating the singles and album charts. Mal Dewhirst memorably reprised both aspects of the era with Outside Barbarellas and Before the Locarno. It was a wistful reminder of a time when music by Chic and The Clash sat side by side in my record collection.
Tom Wyre has been working hard on the performance circuit and it is paying dividends. His trademark is to cram rhymes and alliteration into his poems to bursting point, he is often at his best when drawing upon reflections from his time on the road, Cellophane Man and Joe Hamster being good examples. On a night in which everyone seemed to be trying something different, Janet Jenkins read a very strong prose piece Disturbing the Contents and the versatile Rob Stevens veered from the Queen to paying off his mortgage , whilst host Gary Carr revisited poems inspired by the Pooley Poetry trail as well as hosting the evening with his customary skill.
Spoken Worlds next meets at the Old Cottage Tavern at 7.30pm, on Friday 15th June, free admission. 19-05-12
The Spark Becomes a Flame
Poetry Alight, Spark Cafe,
As a Poetry event organiser, I am all too aware of the trepidation of following a successful first event with the second. It is the band working on their tricky second album.
But they need not have feared, as our host Gary Longden took to the stage, the room was packed with both familiar faces and new, all hanging on his every word, all full of poetic expectations, all ready to be delighted, thrilled and taken to thoughtful places. The evening did not disappoint.
Gary was relaxed and wore his role as the MC with ease and comfort, with his amusing, respectful and enthusiastic introductions.
The evening’s performances featured three guest poets each with six minutes and nineteen supporting poets each with three minutes.
The evening opened with the first of the guest poets, The Word Wizard from Buxton, Rob Stevens (pictured below left). Rob runs the Word Wizards Poetry Slam and is a regular reader at Spoken Worlds as he ventures south to share his wit and thoughtfulness with new audiences.
It was good to see him as the guest poet with a longer set that showed his ability to make you laugh with his well crafted poems “Doesn’t Look Like a Poet”, which was an observation he perceived of how others view him and perhaps the rest of us jobbing poets.
He followed this with two amusing animal poems the first featuring Geoffrey the flatulent Giraffe and the second Hiawatha on a bear hunt. Rob also has a serious side that he brings out in poems such as his final piece on the Hospice. This resonated against the background of the humour of his early pieces and so was a tender reminder of the fragility of life. Rob has a voice that takes you with him, his tone settles you to what is to come, slipping easily from the comic to the serious; he is a master at holding an audience. Rob not only set the high standard for the evening but also created an atmosphere that enabled the following readers to relax into their pieces.
Rob was followed by Jane James from Wolverhampton and regular reader at Bilston Voices, Jane mused on Love in a world of snoring, how her snoring partner did not annoy her and she gloried in this sign of life. She delivered this from memory and was able to engage the audience with her words on the roar of the snore, it showed you were alive and Jane showed she too is very much alive through her well versed observations.
Gary Carr from Burton, where he runs Spoken Worlds followed with a selection from his new poems where he is exploring how to lift words from the page and engage with wider audiences. His first poem “Every Day Just Lifts Me a Little Higher”, explores how as individuals we can make the world a better place, just by enjoying it and revelling in all that life has to offer. Gary followed this with “The Cinder Path Story” exploring our pre-conceptions through Little Red Riding Hood. His final piece Dear Diary, observes that our fellow pupils of 30 years ago are no longer the people we recognise or they us, that our lives though lived in the same town since our shared education do not create bonds that are lasting.
David Calcutt followed and seems to be haunted by delays at this event last time it was a group of exiting knitters from the room upstairs and this time by the tones of the coffee machine as steam was pumped into an emerging Latte.
This however does not worry David who delivered a wonder poem with multiple voices that one would expect from this accomplished writer. Dinmore Woods is an epic journey through nature, full of voices that stretch from England over the border into Wales, examining borders. It was a very well crafted poem that was really well delivered.
David was followed by another very accomplished poet Antony Owen, Antony who hails from Coventry where he runs Nightblue Fruit, he also is an award winning poet whose take on war and society is not matched by any other living poet. Antony’s poems do not take prisoners as they spill the blood of tyranny from the page as he delivers realities so that they cannot be ignored. This makes him stand out as one of the greatest war poets of our time. Antony remembered lasting imagery of Bobby Sands, The Shankhill Lazarus and the fragility of Belfast during the troubles. His poem Pilau Rice explored the Riots of 2011 when three sons lost their lives protecting their property and the dignified response of their father as he called for calm. Antony as ever delivered a consummate performance.
Bert Flitcroft from Alrewas followed with an observation that he was reminded of when standing in front of the mirror shaving, which brought back a childhood memory of an uncle who wandered about Naked. This was followed by a sonnet to a Bacon Sandwich, which resulted in the only argument he and his wife had ever had. More breakfast foods adorned his final piece The Flying Club as he explored the lives of Pigeon Racers. Bert has his own true voice, a voice that can in the same poem amuse and raise to the fore poignant thoughts.
Penny Harper who delighted us with tales of Nepal at the last Poetry Alight, read two well crafted poems that delved into nature and with Song of the Earth dedicated to Professor Brian Cox and the infinite Monkey cage, followed by Hailstones which she described as a shout of hate that silences the birds.
Jane Stanton from Leicester who is a regular at Shindig gave us her wash day poems with a reminiscence of a Flatley Electric Clothes Drier Circa 1961 followed by Clothes Horse which brought back my own memories of making tents from an upturned clothes horse and army blankets where Jane held picnics and saw it as a grandly gentile room.
Her final reminiscence Tasseography an Introduction, telling of the fading art of reading tea leaves, how she observed her Grandma’s skilful interpretations of the future through the dregs of a cup. Jane will be one of the poets going to Cork this year on the Coventry Cork Literature exchange and fine representative she will make.
Christine Colman opened up the world of a sedentary life with her poem Becoming a Seal which she followed with a wonderful poem that gave a voice to Icarus’ Father Daedalus as he observed his son ignore his instructions as he flew off with wax held feather wings only to travel too close to the sun and the wax melt causing Icarus to fall into the sea and drown as told in Greek mythology. The plight of a parent whose advice goes unheard.
Christine was followed by Margaret Torr in the run up to her guest poetry reading at THE FIZZ in Polesworth next Tuesday the 22nd of May. Margaret read her villanelle that came from an article on the funeral of butcher, where they played And Sheep may safely graze. This amused Margaret and so she was struck to write her wonderful piece that she delivers with all the skill of the natural storyteller that she is. I am always honoured when one of the Polesworth Poets Trail poets read their poem from the Trail and so was delighted when Margaret read the Pooley Pit Ponies. I look forward to her reading next week.
The second guest poet finished the first half and what an absolutely captivating performance it was. Sue Brown (left) who leads Writers without Borders, delivered a special few moments not often seen but so absolutely wonderful to experience when they do.
Her poetry is full of rhythm and purposefulness, she makes you stop what you are doing and listen. Her poem My love is Ire fills the room with her joy at being herself and being in love. From my thought came the word explores her relationships with people and with words and how they can interchange in a thoughtful resonant place. Sue finished with Wanting to Be with it rhythms of dance and Jazz and very distinctly the Blues, and absolutely wonderful piece. Sue is definitely someone to seek out on the Birmingham Poetry circuit.
The second half was started in fine style by the
final guest poet Mstr Morrison, (below) who gave us two
poems, the first The Old man and his dog, was a tale about relationships
and how ordinary unassuming people can lead extraordinary lives. His
calm delivery soothed us into the world of the characters; bring a tear
to eye of some who listened. His second poem Dance with me was personal
piece that told of gathering music to enrich the souls of two lovers;
these were two beautiful poems from a beautiful soul an absolutely
brilliant performance. Mstr Morrison is another poet to seek out.
Next was Kate Walton who was struck by a newspaper article that suggested Melton Mowbray has the highest record for accidental deaths. A subject she mused upon with hints of pie making, well I say hints they were blatant references, she did qualify this by stating it was totally fictional. A very witty and well crafted poem that was well delivered.
We were then treated to the poetry of our hosts The Lichfield Poets.
Steph Knipe whose take on the world is always of interest as she sees things that others don’t and then delights us by pointing them out. Her poem Project Sunshine is a must for wine lovers and those who write about wine. Her second poem What Happened Next saw her talking to familiar strangers and ending with a prayer at ground zero. Both delivered with eloquence.
Following Steph came Jan Arnold who read of dying and dead umbrellas in the New York rain, capturing the streets of the Big Apple as no other rain is like that of New York. Here poem Caterpillar Smile was a poem to a lady on a train. Both were well observed pieces that took you to the moments that inspired them.
A reverent welcome was given to the leader of the Lichfield Poets, Janet Jenkins who gave us her creative thoughts on the relationship between humans and wildlife. Her first well crafted poem on Balletic Bullies as she mused on the disruptions of Starlings. She followed this with the disgruntled Frog who whilst trying to spawn was hit on the head by a mobile phone, Janet’s as it happened.
George Barbrook continued the animal theme with his Cat on a Wall, where he philosophised on Fat Cats looking down on us. His second poem really captured me, a love poem inspired by an Aunt who played out the summer, it told of time and the gentleness that we seemed to have lost.
Janet Smith followed with her poem for International Women’s Day, Flares which she pointed out she happened to be wearing, She followed with her poem thought provoking poem, Still Birth, which was selected as one of the twenty highly commended poems for Donald Singer: Health, Art and Science – Hippocrates Awards for Poetry. Her final piece was a tribute to Poet Adrienne Rich, who died earlier this year. It is always a pleasure to hear Janet read, she too will be travelling to Cork this summer as part of the Coventry Cork Literature exchange, Cork is certainly in for a rare treat.
Heather Fowler came next with a poem inspired by the Titanic, Not just any old sinking ship, told of an impresario rolling up the punters for a Titanic sideshow. She followed this with a poem to commemorate the end of the Football season with a memory of visiting Old Trafford in the days when BEST meant George Best. Both were well written and read.
Next came a newcomer to the poetry scene, Kay Westoby, who read from a Kindle, which is becoming more popular with readers in the last six months. Composer and Conductor, where she looks at how she can connect with a discordant world. It was a good first performance.
Finally Tom Wyre read from his collection Soliloquy, Ivory Towers a poem that proclaims Heaven can wait, he followed this with a new poem Cellophane Man who breathes the breath of destruction. A very fine reading and good end to a great night.
Poetry Alight was a terrific evening of poetry and long may it continue although it may have to lose its line of being an occasional event. The Lichfield Poets are to be congratulated for continuing to build this event. Congratulations to Gary Longden whose hosting skills made the evening flow easily and provided for the relaxed enjoyment of poetry.
The next Poetry Alight will be on Tuesday
10th July 2012 at the Spark Café, Tamworth St, Lichfield. This
event is at the same time as The Lichfield Festival. 15-05-12
This review first appeared in:http://pollysworda.wordpress.com
Four Crystals Pamphlets Showcase
City Gallery, Nottingham
HAVING unsuccessfully tried to tame my three-day fever with paracetamol and sooth my raw throat with lozenges, I arrived coughing, clammy and slightly off-kilter in the city of Nottingham for the launch of Crystal Pamphlets at the City Gallery.
Just past and to the left of Nottingham’s famous lion statues there is a small gated alleyway which leads to the glass fronted gallery with its white walls and wooden floor. If you turn to look up and over your shoulder before entering you can see through the steel structure over the doorway to look at the perfectly framed council building dome, a mini St. Paul’s through a millennium bridge-style metal lattice.
I met the proprietor at the door who told me that this former sex shop had been open two months and that the sound of the clock mechanism in the tower bounces and funnels up the alley walls to ricochet into the gallery doorway.
The readers were Deborah-Tyler Bennet, Andrew Graves, Mark Goodwin, Charles Lauder, Aly Stoneman, Wayne Burrows and myself.
The event was extremely enjoyable, there being a bar, good music and a large audience of interested listeners. Aly had planned a really good structure to the readings; Crystal Clear director Jonathan Taylor introduced the evening, explaining how the writers had been selected via a competition and speaking about the Arts Council Grant and support from Writing East Midlands.
Each Crystal Clear poet introduced their mentor who read their own work before introducing their mentee. Before each set of poems we were treated to insights into the mentoring relationships. Introductions enabled each reader to make succinct statements about what she or he found to be the strengths of each-others work. By the end of the evening no-one present was left in any doubt that the project had succeeded in bringing about a fruitful creative cross-pollination between all parties.
After lots of chat and a glass of wine I left the
gallery to the sound of ‘Hey Joe’ played by a bandana wearing busker
with log grey hair. Listening cross-legged at his feet sat two girls,
aged about 16; either this was a testament to the enduring appeal of
rock n roll or a sobering reminder that kids of this age still have no
particular place to go. 11-05-12
Roy is a Leicestershire based poet. In 2009 he sent a poem to the Guardian poetry workshop and his poem was chosen for publication on their website. One poem lead to another. His work is due to appear or has already appeared in anthologies from Frogemore Press, Happenstance, Flarestack and Perth and Kinross Libraries. His pamphlet ‘Gopagilla’ is published by Crystal Clear pamphlets.
Mouth & Music
The Boars Head,
Heather (pictured below) also took the opportunity to rally support to challenge Kidderminster Council’s proposals to close the Library Art Gallery, proposals which would leave the Boars Head Gallery as the only Gallery space in the town.
In my experience public bodies are poor at managing arts provision, whilst local activists are good at it. The Kidderminster Arts Federation has been formed to draw together the diverse Arts interests in Kidderminster and the surrounding areas. The Boars Head Gallery is the nerve centre of operations, the KAF’s efforts deserve to be supported.
Co-KAF conspirator Sarah Tamar helped to launch the evening with the drought inspired Rain before moving onto her home turf of contemporary light poetry with a bit of social bite taking in young women who want to be WAGS, and young men called to fight for their country.
A feature of the evening is its encouragement for first time performers. Margaret Green gave an assured reading of a trio of poems of which I am Too Beautiful To be Waiting was the best.
Elena Thomas works as a contemporary visual artist but chose this evening as a platform to unleash the poet in her with a tribute to thirty years of marriage and a lullaby normally set to music.
Both worked well. Steve Hughes worked a rehearsed, memorised set of two performance pieces, Shall I Spit or Swallow? and Well Endowed, both were woven with double entendres which would have made Frankie Howard blush.
A Lichfield Poets, Ian Ward has become a fixture on the Midlands performance poetry scene, chalking up the hard yards.
From a substantial back catalogue he performed a trio from his 19th Century Cornwall collection, which I think is his strongest, rich in rhythm, rhyme and a sense of place. John Cliff similarly drew on a sense of place, but in his case one much closer to home, the Severn Valley railway, which he explored in Great Longstow.
Worcester has an unusually strong cohort of talented female poets and two were on form tonight. Jenny Hope is a hugely talented poet. Not only is her poetry elegant, lyrical and precise, but she also revels in a dry wit, and a knowing glance. From Petrolhead her 2010 collection she read from The Man who Married His Car, with the memorable opening : “ He was underneath her most weekends.” Jenny matches ear-catching phrases with a beguiling delivery, Woman included the line: “I seek out the roots of sleeping trees” – and we were hooked.
A reluctant Ruth Stacey was dragooned onto stage, fortunately she just happened to have the wonderful Go Round committed to memory, picking up the arboreal theme with :“The deciduous trees are gilded with decay.” Missing from the audience was fellow Worcester Poet Suz Winspear whose signature piece is Evil Trees. I have made a mental note to decline any offer of a walk in the woods with those three.
The evening is also about music as well as poetry and three musicians were on hand to entertain. Kate Wragg reprised her April performance, with Character Building a delight. Colin Pitts had been hunted down after Heather Wastie had seen him performing elsewhere. It was immediately apparent why she went to the trouble. Colin combined the finger work style of Mark Knopfler and the smooth, gravelly tones of Chris Rea in a very well received set. Al Barz performed with a keyboard, rather than guitar, to accompany his poetry. Using a sequencer facility, it was not always clear whether Al was driving the technology, or the technology was driving him, but in the great tradition of the likes of Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson, Al never flinched from pushing the musical boundaries, even ending Leandra with a flourish that Ray Manzarek would have been proud of. Identifying the adapted musical motifs is part of the enjoyment of listening to Al perform, The Whisper of Her Name definitely borrows from Steely Dan’s,Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Home Alone from Mouldy Old Dough by Lieutenant Pigeon.
The audience loved him, it was great fun.
The main event was The Decadent Diva’s debuting much new material, but retaining the premise that each was speaking from the viewpoint of a woman from one of four decades. The format of the evening offered the opportunity of a device which worked particularly well for them. Instead of simply delivering an ensemble piece, they each performed solo spots first. This offered the considerable advantage of helping to establish individual character before they all appeared together.
I like ensemble poetry performance. It offers variety, contrast and an extra dynamic to the poetry itself. It is also interesting to see how this concept is growing and unfolding. In past performances there was a strong sense of the voice of Everywoman representing each decade. Now that solo performances are creating a sense of individual identity, the challenge of whether that identity should be that of the individual poet, or an assumed identity by that individual poet, emerges.
This script gave Laura Yates and Maggie Doyle greater opportunities than previous ones, and both seized that chance with relish and style. Charlie Jordan was as smooth as ever, the oil, allowing the wheels to spin easily around her, Lorna Meehan enjoyed showing out as much the audience lapped up her performance – rarely have I witnessed the very mention of Michael Buble’s name invoke such a sense of hysteria! This was certainly their sauciest and raciest set yet, but was still delivered in the best possible taste.
Mouth & Music next meets at 8pm on Tuesday June 12th, but a Jubilee special is being held, on ubilee Weekend Sat 2nd, Sun 3rd, Mon 4th afternoons, with plenty of poetry and music. 08-05-12Gary Longden
Phenomenal Women 2
Birmingham Library Theatre
STEPPING on to the stage complete with an umbrella, rain mac, hat and rubber duck, Birmingham poet laureate Jan Watts opened the second evening of celebrating phenomenal women on loss in up-tempo style that was to continue throughout the evening, despite the sombre theme.
It seemed to me that not only were all of the women there to share their writing on loss, but also to celebrate their lives after loss.
Kate Walton dazzled and held the whole stage in the palms of her expressive hands for her two poems on loss of relationships, and a lament on the loss of a child. She was honest and confident, and with incredible pace and tone, this relatively new poet is a rising star.
Also new to reading was Lavinia Beresfield, who performed with dignity and grace the true meaning of the word wife, and her world without her husband, which tugged at the heartstrings, a fantastic set for this first time reader. The mistress of form, Penny Hewlett presented beautiful work, with and without form, from the travelling A Graceful Death exhibition, where she has run extensive workshops. The pieces were personal, but timeless and universal with a touch of magic. The whole set left me with the image of a kiss upon a dying man’s face, and was unique, with an elegant twist.
Speaking of elegant, three quarters of the decadent divas strutted their stuff as individuals; Charlie Jordan’s search for a Mother in the form of a telephone conversation was simple and forthright and chilled me to the bone.
The glamorous Maggie Doyle chooses a different kind of loss entirely- weight loss-with extremely funny results, and delivered her reading like a pro, as did Lorna Meehan with a rhythmic and spellbinding piece on’ losing some-one who is still there’.
Similarly rhythmic and able to keep her breath through clever word play was Shaila, who I last saw in summer at the i-slam. She has grown in to an accomplished and articulate young woman, something in the way the poem effortlessly fell from her lips was remarkable, and a pleasure. I look forward to seeing her read again soon. Another lady I have seen once before was Elaine Christie hosting her born free events. A crisp and concise reader, she evoked potent images that connected to each succeeding one with vigour.
Interspersed throughout the evening, Jan read pieces old and new, my favourite being Shelly Now Nicole, which she read with power and passion, but with a delicate touch that showed not only her love for her topic and the technique of writing, but also the determination of what her poem had to say.
Similarly, Kathy Gee shone as always, with confidence and well written, eloquent pieces. She is a timeless and classic writer, whose performance and poetry is excellent in equal measure. Fresh from her sword- fighting antics at Blue Orange theatre, Louise Stokes provided a heartfelt set about the loss that bullying can cause, and read from one of her many books, Marooned. The work was genuine and came from a place of strong emotion, but with the edge of a survivor. It is fantastic to see Louise succeeding in her many roles, actor, writer and artist and as she stood firmly on the stage, summing up the feel of the entire evening with strength and dignity.
Phenomenal Women is part of an occasional series run by Jan Watts in conjunction with the Birmingham Library service in which women only perform to an audience of women and men. 03-05-12
Sam is an undergraduate student at Newnham University College,reading Drama, and a regular as a poet, playwright and actor on stages across the Midlands.
The Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, London
WIZARD is the first theatre show from Dominic Berry a Manchester-based performance poet.
Let me start by declaring an interest in that I’ve met Dominic on the Poetry Slam circuit and we have expressed admiration for each other’s work.
However it is a giant leap from poems performed in three minute segments to a 75 minute stage show that features heavy use of rhyme. So, can a poetry-based show engage an audience for an extended period? Well in my opinion, this show doesn’t just engage; it’s a triumph.
Wizard starts off as a story of a normal person encountering his strange neighbour locked out of his flat. Taking a chance to help him, they form an odd couple friendship where one does the regular 9 to 5 routine which starkly contrasts with Wizard’s world inhabited with talking kettles and magical quests.
It is an indication of the strength of writing and performances that the use of rhyme enhances the story without being clunky. Ben Jewell offers an excellent foil in supporting roles that allows Dominic Berry’s central performance as the Wizard to fly.
What starts out as a tale with quirky charm takes a darker turn when you realise we are not in the realms of Harry Potter but in the world of anxiety-induced agoraphobia. The creation of a world of spells, carpet-goblins and keeping score in quest gaming style is a safe haven from a hectic, violent modern world and who’s to say that isn’t preferable sometimes? Poetry has often been used as part of the healing humanities and in “Wizard” a sensitive subject has been well researched and forms the backbone of a moving and sometimes unsettling story.
Life is sometimes unsettling and these episodes are well acted and the feeble attempts at “care” by a stretched to breaking public service highlight the feeling of helplessness that many must feel.
Excellent lighting and sound effects thoughtfully support the changes in mood and tone to produce a great theatrical experience. This is a wonderful show with lots to commend it and it is currently on a limited tour.
You should go and see it while you have the chance. Yes it is that good; in fact it’s wizard! Details of future performances, and more information on the production and author are available at Dominic’s website: http://dominicberry.net/ 01-05-12
Mark is Poet Laureate for Milton Keynes, appears regularly around the Midlands and works full time as a professional performer. He has been commissioned to write a poem for the Diamond Jubilee weekend which has been recorded by Imelda Staunton and will be broadcast on Sunday 3 June as part of the station’s Holiday Weekend celebrations on BBC Radio Two. More information about Mark is available at: http://www.akickinthearts.co.uk/
Bang said the Gun
The Old Nag’s Head, Jackson’s Row, Manchester
Hidden away n the function room of a pub straight from the set of Life on Mars, one of London's more successful poetry events has been painstakingly recreated in the dark, cynical North.
With hosting duties shared by five local poets, Bang is an anarchistic mix of seasoned scene veterans and open mic virgins split into two halves.
Act One features a poet-in-residence and a special guest, while Act Two offers anyone ready to brave the microphone a chance to win the coveted Golden Gun.
The first night's hosting duties fell to Dominic Berry (as seen naked on Channel 4), a manic bundle of energy who doesn't so much speak with his hands as scream with his entire upper body, and the slightly more restrained Benny-Jo Zahl.
After a brief warm up consisting of aubergines and an unnatural deployment of an electric whisk, the crowd were introduced to Bang's first resident poet, Jackie Hagan.
Jackie's offering centred on a theme close to the hearts of the audience; reconciling working class roots with middle class pursuits (University, olives, poetry), and her caustically witty insights can't help but wring a wry smile from any crowd.
After a brief interlude from next week's host, the always superb and superlative (but never superfluous) Rod Tame, the night's star billing took to the stage.
Ben Mellor of Penultimate is no average performer. Having won Radio 4's poetry slam, he brings a real confidence and charm to the stage, and his performance at Bang was no different.
WISDOM OF PROVERBS
WISDOM OF PROVERBS
Ben's three poem set touched upon the wisdom of proverbs and the potential of paper, before preparing the country for the inevitable summer outbreak of nationalist half-wittery with the hilarious "Come On England".
Act two's guest slot is reserved for Bang Said the Gun winners, but with this being opening night, it was left to Wigan & Leigh slam winner Charlotte Henson to follow Dave Viney's brief introduction.
Charlotte's style is just about uncomfortable enough to make stand up poetry look difficult - providing an ideal introduction to the climax of the night.
Open mic nights are always a mixed bag, but quality at Bang was high, with the impromptu "volunteer" judge finding it hard to choose between the Nearly Dead Poet Society's "Too Young to Die, Too Old to Rap" and Thick Richard's "Scum of the Earth". After brief deliberation and a scientific comparison of applause, Thick Richard walked away with the prestigious Golden Gun and a future guest slot.
With the awards done, it was left to Keiren King to close the night with a personal favourite of mine – "Whatever Happened to the Heroes?"
If Bang lives up to its own high standards, it's
pretty clear what happened to
Bang Said The Gun (Manchester) - Thursdays, 7:30pm -
The Old Nag's Head,
David Viney grew up in Stretford, Manchester and is
one third of poetry collective Working Verse who have a second showing
of their hit show 'Amateur Thematics' at the Lowry Theatre on 4th
August, followed by the book launch of debut collection 'The Prequel to
the Sequel', Lowry Theatre 2nd September 2012.
Marianne Boruch: A Poetry Reading
What a treat, at the end of a (very) long working day! Having found a free parking space in my usual side street (best-kept secret), I fairly legged it through the pouring rain and stepped into the time capsule that is the Mayor's Parlour in Leicester's Guildhall just in time to catch Caroline Cook's introduction and welcome.
Marianne Boruch is a professor of English at Purdue University, Indiana, and a Fullbright scholar, writing and teaching at the University of Edinburgh. She has published eight poetry collections, including The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon Press 2011).
I first heard Boruch read at a Leicester Poetry Society event several years ago. Tonight's reading was an altogether different experience: add to the mix the endeavours of campanologists in rehearsal at the cathedral next door, visual distractions in the form of an ornate heraldic fireplace (anno 1637) as backdrop (I wonder what happened to my cherished childhood copy of The Observer's Book of same...), various items of wall furniture, including a couple of imperious-looking characters (framed) and, bizarrely, a bright green sequin which winked at me from its niche between the floorboards...
Marianne talked about her semester spent in the dissection lab at Purdue University where she spent twelve hours a week, at the same time studying life drawing. Working from the notes she made on her observations and overheard comments/conversations, she wrote a series of poems in cadaver-speak, as yet unpublished in book form, although they have appeared in The Georgia Review.
These are persona poems, written almost against her will, as the character of her favourite corpse, a hundred-year-old woman, took over. A fascinating window on a world, too: in the US, cadavers' heads are kept wrapped in bandages, mummy-like, until eventually revealed - a moment of high drama. In the UK, however, students are eyed by their corpses throughout the whole proceedings. And the origin of those traditional red and white barbers' poles...
The Book of Hours, Boruch's latest collection, is a kind of journal, a portrait of time, written in quatrains. There are God poems, Voice poems (an older poet addressing younger poets), her mother's death a thread throughout. Marianne views this collection as distinct from her previous writing: poems that came, unbidden, and kept on coming.
At least as fascinating as the poems themselves was an insight into the various writing processes: notes morphing into poems; a character imposing her will/personality/opinions upon the writer; organic poems that willed themselves into existence.
Marianne Boruch, unassuming, oh-so-softly-spoken, but a true inspiration. She brought no publications for sale, so will employ my favourite search engine forthwith. But that green sequin offers all manner of possibilities. 04-05-12
Jayne Stanton lives, works and writes in Leicestershire. Her poems appear, or are forthcoming, in Under the Radar, Staple, Hearing Voices, The Journal and others. Her blog, in which this review first appeared, is available at: http://jaynestantonpoetry.wordpress.com/
Night Blue Fruit
Johns Vaults ,
THIS long running event continues to prosper under the careful curatorship of Anthony R Owen who this month had invited Sarah James (pictured below) from Worcestershire to be guest poet.
Sarah is a sought after performer at these events due to her polymath poetic talents. She is based in Droitwich Spa where she runs the Poetry Society’s Worcestershire Stanza and is secretary of Droitwich Arts Network.
Widely published, Sarah’s
first full-length poetry collection Into the Yell was published
by Circaidy Gregory Press in July 2010 and won third prize in the
International Rubery Book Awards 2011.
What always impresses me about Sarah is both the breadth of her subject matter, and the care in her language. How to Dress was a very strong opener with a well developed cactus metaphor, Je Ne Sais Quoi a bitter sweet reminiscence of her time spent as a student studying French in France. Instrumental, about her young sons, typified her material, clever but never highbrow.
That standard was mirrored by a strong supporting cast. Gary Carr, from Burton upon Trent’s Spoken Worlds relished the opportunity to perform, rather than organise, delivering a well crafted set from his impressive Monday to Friday through to Octopus.
From Birmingham University, Janet Smith performed what is becoming a formidable and well tested set, to which Meadowhall, which I had not heard before, had been added, and was a welcome addition to her performing repertoire.
Forging his way on the circuit, and a Night Blue Fruit debutante, Chris Wayne wisely played safe with the short, but effective Faithless and a longer piece about alcoholism written as an observational piece, because he does not drink.
A strong student contingent brought an eclectic and diverse range of poetic offerings to the stage. Vocanoes ? Fuck Em was inventive, Oblivious a powerful poignant warning on date rape.
Photography student Adele Reed made quite an impact. Uncertain as to whether she wanted to read or not she invited host Anthony Owen to read for her, who was handed a handwritten notebook in which the poem was written backwards, not an auspicious set of circumstances!
Furthermore Adele decided, upon reflection, that she wanted to read after all, and delivered an extended piece with the epic ambition of Spenser’s Faerie Queen. It was dense and lyrical, although I am not entirely sure what it was all about. A sure fire way to attract an intrigued audience. With the wind in her sails Adele went on to read about a rabbit whose fluffy or mechanical properties were ambiguous!
Night Blue Fruit next meets at 8pm on Tuesday 5th June. 01-05-12
Metro Cafe, Bilston
Fading spring light still clung to the evening hour through the haze of light drizzle as April’s instalment of Bilston Voices commenced.
The usual, strong, crowd assembled early for coffee and cake before sampling the main course of the evening’s entertainment for one of the more diverse bills of a fine 2012 programme.
Storytelling commenced proceedings with Iris Rose remembering her four weddings (without a funeral) as a bridesmaid. Iris bears an uncanny resemblance to Sky News anchorwoman Kay Burley, but her roots were emphatically Black Country and not media luvvie.
It was a leisurely stroll through schooldays of apple scrumping, wheelbarrow rides and British Rail services which ran on time, a journey the appreciative audience were happy to climb on board for.
Spoken Word at the Hollybush Public House in Cradley Heath is another regular Black Country night out. Veteran Richard Bruce Clay has recently handed over the reins of organising the event to tenderfoot jack Edwards who tonight was performing, rather than cheerleading. Young, ebullient and full of ideas, he is unashamedly a performance poet. His opening trio of January Sales/ I’m a Rock Star/Health & Safety were the poetic equivalent of a fast bowler in cricket bowling his opening over, effective, exploratory and testing the reaction of what was opposite to him.
By the time he had delivered his closing salvo of Supply Teachers Guide/Fair Trade / Sorry he was regularly taking wickets. Supply Teacher evoked gales of laughter, and Fair Trade is probably his best poem. Sorry which he closed with, whilst good, worked better as an opener when I saw him perform it recently in Kidderminster, underscoring how sensitive poems are to their position in a running order.
Octogenarian Win Saha, closed the first half with poetry that was neither sentimental nor retrospective in tone, drawing instead on the past to illuminate the present. Vulnerable Man, about the effect of the recession, could have been written in the 1930’s or 1970’s, but packed a contemporary punch, Consolation Prize was a saucy take on internet dating, whilst Rain Dance was demonstrably effective as the pavements outside glistened with the results of a timely April shower.
Win and Jack proved with their first half sets the adage “if you are good enough you are old enough,” from opposite ends of the age spectrum. Win’s collection, Win’s Top Thirty is available from Offa’s Press.
After the interval Roger Jones split his performance between four poems and a reminiscence of his first day at Secondary School in 1948. Anyone lamenting declining standards of behaviour in schools now would have been shocked by the chaos of teacher assault and vandalism that confronted Roger on his first day. Yet it was his shortest piece, Simian, a poem about a black man who was admitted to the same hospital ward as him, then died, over half a century ago, that stood out for me.
Headlining the evening was Liz Lefroy, from Shrewsbury, whose debut pamphlet, Pretending the Weather won the prestigious Roy Fisher prize in 2011. Her latest pamphlet, The Gathering, had been delivered by the printers that vey morning, affording her the opportunity to offer Bilston a world premier performance of some extracts!
Her tall frame gives her a commanding presence which combines with her measured mellifluous delivery to create calm and confidence.
She picked up on the nostalgic thread which had run through some previous performances on the night to introduce her first poem, Archaeology. In it, she draws parallels between the work of archaeologists who attempt to piece together physical fragments of the past, and poets who seek to create poems by searching for fragments of memory. By so doing, both strive to make sense of the present. It was a compelling and powerful analogy.
S KILLED HANDS
Liz is engagingly eclectic in her choice of subject matter. Poems about childhood risk being intensely personal with little reach beyond the author, but not in her skilled hands. In her Episodes sequence she wrote of her mother; ”Once you let us find you stripped down to your tears,” the silence in the room cried out in recognition.
Her language is economic, precise and compassionate. In Roadside Shrine she opens with, “I pass your death each morning.” Gratuitous grandiloquence is no pitfall for her. As an aside she revealed that she is a vicar’s daughter. Her writing, as if by osmosis, combines the clergyman’s oratorical skills of sensitivity and candour.
The liturgical awareness which surrounded her upbringing is explored in the exact, lyrical words of The Gathering, which also has a musical arrangement, from which she read The New Testament Reading/The Creed. The tradition of setting devotional poetry to music has a rich tradition, most successfully practised by Christina Rossetti – Liz is in fine company!
Determined not to leave the audience with too serious an impression of her, she delighted and entertained also with Sunday Gifts about ladies underwear, and the self deprecating Gender Reassignment, before closing with a cautionary tale of the tensions between prose and poetry writers which struck a chord with all.
Bilston Voices once again succeeded in its mission of providing a platform for distinguished performers with a national reputation whilst also providing a platform for local talent.It meets again on Thursday 24th May. 26-04-12
Sounds & Sweet Airs
Bookmark Library Theatre, Bloxwich
Poetry readings abound in the Midlands at the moment. Men and women are seen entering a rich variety of bars, pubs, meeting rooms and libraries clutching notepads and books.
Tonight they converged on Bloxwich, an ideal venue with sound system, stage and flexible seating, for local author David Calcutt’s Sounds & Sweet Airs. With mini- candles flickering on the tables, Charlie Jordan commented that the room had the feel of a Parisian Cafe, left bank, naturally.
David Calcutt opened proceedings drawing upon Chaucer's Wife of Bath for What Women Desire, a stirring epic tale. Its erudite tone and traditional content fused effortlessly with the evening’s themes of celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday and literary traditions, and World Book Day.
Ian Henry picked up the patriotic theme with an homage to St George before Tom Wyre read an engaging trilogy of the surreal with trademark rhymes. The Lichfield Poets were well represented on the evening, leader Janet Jenkins read from a piece written for the Lichfield Mysteries, about the Garden of Eden, and closed with a beautiful nature poem about a murmuration of starlings.
First guest poet, Maria Calame, closed the first half with her customary energy, lyricism, performance and grace. She effortlessly slips between the received pronunciation of Skin Deep and the Caribbean patois of Dead in the Water, combining pathos, redemption, defiance and hope in one tremendous package.
Opening the second half, second guest poet, and Decadent Diva, Charlie Jordan breezed through familiar territory, Walkmans on local bus routes, the erotic allure of men shaving, and her signature Words all pleased. She tantalised us by performing only a fragment of Buddhism and Ben & Jerrys, but delighted us with her new M, the saucy tale of the head of Mi5.
From the floor, Ian Ward now combines an accomplished repertoire with some introductory banter, declaring that his reading was themed around “recent poems” which raised a knowing chortle from a poet heavy audience, his Lichfield Mysteries poem about the martyrdom of a heretic in Lichfield market square is particularly strong. Basking in the news of her long listing in the recent Flarestack Publishing pamphlet competition,Janet Smith delivered a dark and intense sequence with a smile and confidence, the new Hooded Children stood out for me.
Drawing the evening to a close was past Birmingham Poet Laureate Roy Mac Farlane who is guaranteed to close any poetry event on a high note. His poem about Richard Pryor deals with racism, Jack and Jill is a cry on behalf of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, and the pernicious effect of spending cuts is not spared his rage. But Roy’s material extends beyond the political and social. Nearly There neatly name-checks his young daughter, whilst an extended piece about the erotic properties of tights made you wonder what would happen if Roy shaved, and Charlie Jordan put her tights on, in the same room!
All in all a fine evening drawing together the local
poetry community, and part of an occasional series led by David Calcutt,
check the Bookmark Library Theatre website in Bloxwich for future
Cheltenham Poetry Festival
Nine Arches Poetry Juke Box / Pulp Diction
When Cheltenham Poetry Festival launched in 2011 it was described as ‘a triumph’ by poet Alison Brackenbury, now in its second year, it has returned bigger and better, with 95 performers over 5 days overseen by Chief Executive Director Anna Saunders.
Saturday had a range of events; the two that caught my eye were the Nine Arches Poetry Juke Box at the Exmouth Public House, Bath Road in the afternoon, and Pulp Diction at the Town Hall in the evening.
Nine Arches Press have been steadily growing an impressive catalogue of poets over the past few years. Co-editor Jane Commane was on hand to introduce, and link, three poets from her stable; Luke Kennard, Dan Sluman and Phil Brown. Promoters are always, rightly, looking for ways to refresh poetry readings. The device used this afternoon was to pre-nominate eight themes culled from song titles, and invite members of the audience to select which order they were performed in.
The advantages of this mechanism were the novelty, audience involvement and dramatic uncertainty of what was to follow. The disadvantage was that the poets did not have an opportunity to develop their identity over successive poems. Nonetheless, the credits certainly outweighed the debits in a well-worked format which showcased the work of three poets:
Daniel Sluman is Gloucestershire based, so was on home turf and unveiled material from his upcoming debut collection, Absence Has a Weight of its Own. He modestly asserts that his claim to fame is having once been bought a drink by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, his writing, and performance was meticulous, considered and contained.
Phil Brown teaches English in Sutton, south London. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Crashaw Prize and won the Eric Gregory Award in 2010, his most recent collection is, Il Avilit. His readings were characterised by simple, effective language and ear catching observations. Never before have I heard a tale of bored privately educated schoolgirls uninterested in poetry because they were destined to be doctors – but that is exactly what unfolded in Grammars and Comprehensives. That gift of the unexpected twist ran through many of his pithy selections.
Dr Luke Kennard lectures at Birmingham University and has an effortless manner which beguiles and delights audiences wherever he goes. He is the youngest poet ever to be nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Collection, -The Harbour Beyond the Movie (2007). Including selections from Planet ~ Shaped Horse, he never compromises in content or form, drawing the audience to join him, not pandering to what they may think they want. Kennard is in the vanguard of contemporary poetry, leading and setting the pace, catch him while you can. Death of Journalism was savage in its brevity, Elija a laconic delight, with the wonderful line, ”All beautiful women think they can save the world, scoffs Simon, it’s a standard attendant pathology.”
It was a particular pleasure to see the event so well attended by an audience that included local LibDem MP Martin Horwood, adding his support to a very successful occasion.
In the evening “Pulp Diction” came to the Pillars Room at Cheltenham Town Hall, a variety night which mixed spoken word with music organised by Barnaby Eaton Jones, Dan Parker performed two sets which delivered poetry backed by an electric guitar, exploring territory visited previously by Lou Reed and John Cale, whilst Martin Vogwell delivered a traditional folk set.
Local star and festival favourite Amy Rainbow took time out from supporting the likes of John Cooper Clarke to perform as part of the Imperfect Pair delivering Self Mastery, Mr Right and The Man Who Wore Tweed with her customary waspish self- assurance. Catherine Crosswell worked hardest on the night performing a poetry set, and a musical one, as one part of “Four Tart Harmony.”
Worcestershire and Gloucestershire have more than their fair share of talented female poets, and Catherine is amongst the best. She specialises in poems which commence with the everyday and mundane and then teleport into the surreal. Recipe for Success moves from home brewing to colonic irrigation and cake baking becomes intensely erotic. Beautifully paced, brimful with ideas, and attention holding, her set was a pleasure, and was warmly and enthusiastically received.
“Four Tart Harmony” closed proceedings. Comprising Dusty (Catherine), Bossy (Grace), Bakewell (Hattie) and Dotty (Mantha), they entertained and delighted with a well chosen and well executed a capella performance. Perfect stood out, as did an ambitious and successful closing mash of Fat Bottomed Girls and I Get Knocked down (But I Get Up Again). The Tarts looked good, sang clever arrangements well, and obviously enjoyed themselves – as did the audience.
Both events, although diverse and divergent in content, bore testament to the depth of talent around and augurs well for the continued success of future Poetry Festivals in Cheltenham. 22-04-12
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent
ORGANISED by host Gary Carr, this monthly spoken word event continues to provide a solid platform for experienced, and less experienced, writers alike to trial their work in a supportive atmosphere.
Trusty troubadours arrive from as far away as Buxton, Birmingham, Chesterfield and Tamworth to read to a knowledgeable and supportive audience.
For once, Gary Carr gave himself some reading time, and very welcome that was too. Dear Diary and The Collector shone, A Brief History of Time (about clocks) was the pick of the bunch.
Rob Stevens picked up the zeitgeist of the summer with an amusing discourse on the travels of the Olympic torch called Sid the Sneeze. At home with a guitar as well, Rob excels at telling stories whether with musical accompaniment, comic or serious. He has promised an extended Sound of Music themed sequence – I can’t wait!
Ian Ward has been honing his art in recent months, and it shows. His impressive Lichfield Mysteries trio showcased a future performance, whilst his first trio, Withered Wychwood, the Ice Queen and Seasons of Time had him on familiar fantasy ground. It’s a bit like listening to Tales From Topographic Oceans from Yes, you know that it is good without having any real idea what it is all about!
A second time visitor was Dwane Reads from Chaddesden who is enthusiastically launching himself into the performance poetry circuit. Boasting bags of poems and energy, and thematically favouring “kitchen sink “ poetry, it will be intriguing to see how he evolves. Dea Costello is an occasional visitor who never fails to impress. She offered a wonderful mini sequence on snapshots of situations to which she then fills in a back-story, and two beautiful poems about herons and seagulls. Tony Keaton too, drops in when he can, and invariably shines, this time with the wicked Fly Tipping.
Variety has always been a feature of Spoken Worlds, and so it proved tonight. Jeannie Jordan showcased an excerpt from her Buxton Fringe play Imperfect Cadence, Terry and Ray Holland performed a sketch with dialogue as hard edged as Tarrantino’s Reservoir Dogs. A different and exciting contribution was made by Mal Dewhirst who played audio recordings of workshop contributions made by members of the public inspired by Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. The slightly echoey sound, and faint background noise from a cafe with rain occasionally audible in the background made for an intriguing and rewarding piece. And as if to remind us that he can write a bit too, he also dusted down My Town, a powerful polemic on the death of the High Street that seems to have improved still further with age.
That variety, combined with Karen Carr making a rare and strong contribution, made for another rich and enjoyable evening. Spoken Worlds next meets on Friday 18th May, 7.30pm start, free admission. 21-04-12
Writers Retreat Showcase
ERDINGTON Library has been hosting a week long series of poetry workshops curated by Jan Watts, Birmingham Poet Laureate.
This night was a showcase for those who had worked for four days to develop, and hone, their poetic skills. Reprising the success of last year’s writer’s retreat, a combination of absolute beginners and more seasoned campaigners gathered to showcase their efforts for the evening’s entertainment.
However this was no self-congratulatory love fest. Jan Watts herself demonstrated that she could walk the walk as well as talk the talk with a selection of her current favourites taking in the anti-war Spectacles to Sainsburys at Maypole. I see and hear a fair bit of Jan, and what is intriguing is that far from sitting on her laurels she has become more strident and energised as her year has unfolded, inspiring and cajoling other poets as she goes.
Maintaining Jan’s high standard was Julie Boden, a past Birmingham Poet Laureate whose work I have admired for some years now. Reading freely from her collection Cut on the Bias she educated with poems taking in different forms including Memories in a City Cafe, a sestina, Lady in Red (nothing to do with Chris De Burgh!) a triolet, and Singing Happiness, a daisy chain. The sestina is a structured 39 line poem consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by an envoi of three lines. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern. The triolet is a very brief, tightly rhymed eight line poem that, like the pantoum, takes part of its structure from the repetition of entire lines. The daisy chain is a poem that ends where it starts. All three were textbook examples of their forms. Memories in the Cafe was the most satisfying for me as the language did not seem to be controlled by the form, it was complimented by it, a difficult feat to execute.
Full time student Samantha Hunt set quite a marker with her visceral poem about child abuse, Telling Stories, whose opening stanza is:
It merges with rainy afternoons
Dripping through the past.
Where my Mother is clutching a worn teddy bear
In an empty room, drawing her knees up on the hollow bed
Where time has stopped and night is rushing in
Flushing hot on my cheeks.
Restrained, but honest, it is the gaps between the words which were the most potent.
And Sam was not alone in turning out some excellent work. Vera Gilbert impressed with At This Moment as did Kathryn Faulkner with her reflections on body image. Other poets romped through Monet, Iona and Rome in an impressive and confident display of poetic dexterity. All in all a fine recital by tutors and tutored alike. 19-04-12
Mouth & Music
Boars Head Gallery, Kidderminster
The Boars Head is a proper old fashioned pub, full of doors and nooks and crannies. It has also become a cultural hub in Kidderminster.
When it first opened in 1888, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and Tennyson were alive and writing. It is fitting that as part of an artistic platform which takes in art and music, poetry is now on the agenda in the guise of Mouth & Music, promoted by Heather Wastie and Sarah Tamar.
Sarah took the lead for this evening with quiet assurance and a few poems of her own. Heather concentrated on performing in the Brewers Troupe ensemble who were performing excerpts from Snug, a bespoke piece about a pub.
This was the fourth Mouth & Music and already it is gathering quite a following with over forty people crowded into the first floor gallery space leaving standing room only. The format comprises open mic slots for around three poems for which you can sign up on the night, a few acoustic guitarists, and a headline act which tonight were Brewers Troupe.
The audience was pleasingly mixed including a healthy presence of young talent, the local boho crowd, writers groups and troubadours from Wolverhampton, Walsall and Worcester ( I may have missed other locations beginning in W).
The content was diverse. Jack Edwards delighted with a clever rehearsed performance piece in which the audience heard half a conversation he was ostensibly having on his mobile phone with an annoyed girlfriend. I like Jack. He writes well, performs his work dramatically, but not to the detriment of the content and engages well with the audience.
Furthermore, he understands that “less is more”, after that piece he took the applause and sat down leaving us wanting more. David Calcutt also played the same hand of just one excellent piece, in this case Achillies,a powerful discourse on death. A chance conversation resulted in him revealing the extent of his stage experience and that acting prowess shone. With no book as a shield, the classical imagery and lyrical verse unerringly found their mark. Also going for the single shot was Dave Francis, who performed an adaptation of Pinter’s Silence, a clever idea, very well executed.
Snug is unfolding as one of the best, and most frustrating projects I have seen. The concept is perfect, an ensemble performance of a collection of bespoke poems about a pub and the characters within them. The characters are memorably drawn, the drama poignant and amusing, the language a delight.
The problem that they face is that with a cast of several, and a script written for the physical surroundings of The Hollybush in Cradley Heath, it is expensive to tour and awkward to make the action fit other surroundings. They overcame those constraints this time by producing a “greatest hits” set which worked well, and left those of us who know the material longing for more.
Emma Purshouse’s anthropomorphic “Conchita the slot machine” is a wonderful creation, and one which the gambling industry would make millions from, if it were allowed. If previously you have never regarded slot machines as sexy, check out Emma in her long black Latino wig. Heather Wasties’ tipsy Edith was, by contrast, understated, but no less effective.
Acoustic guitar songs were performed by itinerant Ali 12 string, Omar Anthony and Kate Wragg, the latter of whom combined the voice of Joan Baez, the edge of Talking Heads, and the lyrical sharpness of Elvis Costello. A strong list of open micer’s included debutante David Hallard who acquitted himself well, Lisa Ventura with a defiant, and enjoyably breezy, “I Will Survive” set,and the always striking and entertaining Suz Winspear,whose Evil Trees is fast becoming, deservedly, her signature piece.
Mouth & Music returns on Tuesday the 8th
May, 7.30pm with The Decadent Divas from Birmingham headlining.
Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath
Poetry Bites has a deserved reputation for delivering high quality conventional poetry.
It is to organiser Jacqui Rowe's considerable credit that this time around she was prepared to take a chance with a more left-field choice of guest poet, which this month was Ira Lightman â€“ and this review is focused solely on her.
Concentrating on a single poet is a first for Behind the Arras at Poetry Bites but having one, rather than two guest poets, Rowe was also able to offer Lightman thirty minutes performing time to enable the audience a proper chance to hear him stretch out in two fifteen minute sections.
Currently from in Newcastle upon Tyne, but previously living in the Black Country and Kings Heath, Lightman is a conceptual poet with a particular interest in public art.
He regularly appears on BBC Radio 3's The Verb, and has three published collections. Phone in the Roll, (Knives Forks and Spoons Press), uses poems spoken into an imperfect dictation transcriber, which produces misheard, transcriptions of the intended text.
Mustard Tart as Lemon , (Red Squirrel Press), draws together work written over 15 years and includes Concrete poetry. Duetcetera, (Shearsman Books), offers twin column poetry which can be read individually, or together, and is written as two voices.
He has also been featured on New York based website www.ubu.com/ubu, a considerable feather n his cap. The Sunday Times named it one of the top ten benchmark websites in the world. There are just five UK poets published there, and Lightman is one of them.
This comes as no surprise to me, his poetic experimentation is reminiscent of the musical experimentation of New York based 1970s New Wave band Talking Heads - they embrace this sort of thing in the Big Apple.
That experimentation on the night included Homing, a piece half sung to a random musical programme, and an extract from an I- Ching hexagram.
Such forays off the beaten track will not suit all. Conventional patterns are deconstructed and rigid forms explored, often at the expense of conventional narrative. Critics may argue that the primacy of form over content produces a result where the outer shell becomes more important than what is contained therein.
Aficionados of Lightman's work may counter that he is breaking new ground on what is possible, and that what we are seeing are bold prototypes, with value as such. Evolution will come. He is a man who does not accept the sclerotic torpor of mainstream poetic presentation.
Phone in the Roll exploits mishearing as a poetic device. When Lightman dictates, he has no idea how the transcriber may misinterpret his words. For example money was mistranscribed as mummy in a serious piece, to comic effect.
On the one hand the conventional narrative is lost. Equally new possibilities are created. What was the original word? What new meanings emerge? How is the imagined context of the original poem altered by successive mistranscriptions? It is a device of unintended consequences designed to compel the reader, or listener, to ask questions, not to provide answers. Questions are the answer.
RANDOM MUSICAL BACKING
RANDOM MUSICAL BACKING
Homing was performed to a random musical backing track. The objective? To artificially randomise the pace, structure, intonation and therefore meaning of the words, and poem. No two performances can ever be the same. In application this is more sophisticated than at first appears.
A specimen line, â€œThe timing tight, the bus arrived, and we headed for the great noun, BIRMINGHAM, its centre,â€ is written to be broken up, and is disjointed from the start. Hence this is not a deconstruction, it becomes a first time construction- every time.
Lightman did not expand on the mechanics of this, but on the page it appeared to borrow from the â€œcut-upâ€ aleatory literary technique whose lineage stretches back through the likes of David Bowie, William Burroughs and the Dadaists of the late 1920s.
Poems will always be open to interpretation, the random backing track is an external force which adds an aural dimension to the existing intrinsic ambivalence of the writing on the page.
The previous two devices had immediate aural impact in a way that Lightman's I-Ching hexagrams could not. The I Ching, is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts dating back to 475 BC.
It centres on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change. Inevitably there are numerous hybrids of the form but the essence is that it is a set of oracular statements represented by 64 sets of six lines each called hexagrams.
Each hexagram is a figure composed of six stacked horizontal lines, each line is either Yang, an unbroken or solid line, or Yin, broken, an open line with a gap in the centre. With six such lines stacked from bottom to top there are 64 possible combinations, and thus 64 hexagrams represented.
COMPLEX AND DEMANDING
COMPLEX AND DEMANDING
I had the benefit of seeing it on the page, as a performed piece it does not do justice to its incredibly complex and demanding requirements. Some may argue that it is a mathematical, theoretical, form whose benefits are outweighed by its rigour.
However it has an illustrious and distinguished history which predates much Western poetry. Over the decades, poets have always created and battled with new forms. Sir Thomas Wyatt in the 16th Century was obsessed with ancient classical forms as he evolved the sonnet. Lightman, although avant-garde in his approach, has distinguished antecedents.
Duetcetra definitely is a performance piece, and challenging work it is too. It takes two columns running independently down the page, both containing a self sufficient poem, but is also capable of being read across, line for line, as one poem. Performed, this is an onerous challenge for Lightman as he delivers the lines read across in two voices to distinguish between the two poems which have become one.
On the page this can look like a clever exercise, performed with the independent voices, the symmetry and conflict of the two poems come to life. Physically, it places huge demands upon Lightman's voice, especially when one voice is that of a small boy and the other a grown man.
I suspect that finding a sympathetic alter ego to perform the other half of the duet would ease the load immeasurably, whilst not detracting from the scale of the achievement, which is considerable. Read out loud, it was innovative, demanding, funny and a delight.
A good poetry evening should inspire, and Ira Lightman did just that. His allotted time was not long enough for him to explain the background to much of his work, which was a pity, I was eager to learn more of that.
His work hammers at the gates of the Gleichschaltung of the Poetry Establishment and was as rewarding as any conventional lyrical poetry set, but for very different reasons.
Poetry Bites returns on Tuesday 22nd May with Clare Best, before then on 22nd April, Flarestack Press launches new pamphlets by David Hart and Joel Lane at the MAC in Birmingham. 28-03-12
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent
Regular poetry events are not easy to sustain. I organised my first event a few weeks ago and was educated in exactly how much hard work goes intomaking them happen.
Those who organise them regularly are heroes, and that includes Gary Carr who promotes Spoken Worlds. A key ingredient is creating something which is unique, which makes you want to attend, and feel that you are missing out if you don’t go. At Spoken Worlds, as well as having “three halves,” that defining characteristic is providing a platform for performers to experiment with new or reworked material.
Steph Knipe from Fradley is a quirky delight who specialises in off-beat poetry about microwave ovens, food sent in the post, and wheely bins. Her poems are regularly published. Tonight she sprung a surprise by bringing along her guitar and putting one of her familiar poems, Bovine Ailments, to a folk style accompaniment.
It worked very well, providing an extra dimension to what is already a very satisfying piece. I hope that she will feel encouraged to experiment further and try setting more of her work to music. Although the relationship between lyrics for music and poetry is an uneasy one, I think that Steph is on to something here.
Mal Dewhirst is experimenting in a different way by writing fresh contemporaneous lyrical poems themed on Pink Floyd’s The Wall for a summer production in Tamworth Assembly Rooms, Tuesday 5th - Fri 8th Jun from 7:30pm. I have had the pleasure and privilege of hearing this unfold. It is an exciting project with one piece in particular, March of the Worms, capturing the spirit of Roger Waters circa the mid 1970’s, and the zeitgeist of the all pervading dominance of the Internet in the 21st century.
I have become increasingly interested in the link between epic poetry and storytelling in recent months. That link is one that Margaret Torr has also been exploring as she told an extending rhyming story of a monkey and crocodile in her slot, it was a bold move, and one which paid handsomely.
Ian Ward has been working exceptionally assiduously over the past year putting in the hard yards of performing and testing his poetry at many venues. His latest move has been to create an imaginary village to explore the fantasy world which he loves to create. It is an ideal vehicle for his poetic milieu and one which has considerable potential.
Dwane Reads made his Spoken Worlds debut in confident style. An out-an –out Performance Poet, his material ranged from donkeys on Blackpool Beach to traffic jams on the A50, the latter of which was his best piece. His material had promise, however the delivery was a little strident, the volume stuck on loud. Dwane explained that he was eager to secure new performance slots in his poetic journey, I suspect that as he does so, the light and shade which is required in performance will emerge.
Ray and Terri Jolland performed a very accomplished Shakespeare pastiche, Janet Jenkins orated on a murmuration of starlings, Tom Wyre read from some well worked Mysteries compositions. Spoken Worlds returns on Friday 20th April, 7.30pm start, free admission. 24-03-12
Cafe , Bilston
A heavyweight bill,with four out of the five readers published poets, brought out another strong attendance, such that the start had to be delayed, a measure both of the success of the event, and the pulling power of poetry in Bilston.
Hosted by Emma Purshouse, the sales table groaned under the weight of the various publications credited to the evening’s authors.
First up was Dave Finchett with a well prepared set. He opened with a trio of love poetry, which is always high risk, albeit underpinned by the safety net of the sonnet form, but he pulled it off. I particularly enjoyed his description of street lights as “fiery pinheads of the night sky” in Light Pollution. But it was Bullshit, a knockabout satire on the foibles of middle –management which drew the most applause, including his memorable description of a “thicket of middle managers”.
Jacqui Rowe, co-editor of Flarestack Poets, informed me that the next poet, Joel Lane is the first poet ever to be invited to submit a collection for publication by Flarestack, which has resulted in Instinct, a collection of erotic poetry. Frustratingly, he only read a handful of poems from the collection. Instrumental, about musician Charlie Parker, was excellent.
Instead he bravely elected to read a short story about a mystery cancer cluster on a local estate. Joel is sharing a joint launch of Instinct with David Hart at the Birmingham MAC on 22nd April.
Closing the first half Jacqui Rowe herself stepped up to perform, visibly relishing the freedom of not having to carry the responsibility of hosting Poetry Bites, her own bi-monthly poetry evening in Birmingham. Most of her reading was from Paint, inspired by her recent residency at Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton, the ancestral home of the Mander family who made their fortune producing paint in the 19th century.
Curiously Theodore Mander married Flora Paint, so a title for the pamphlet was not hard to come by! The poetry itself is moving and beautiful, with the pamphlet available from her website, but my favourite poem of her reading came from her most recent residency at the Warwickshire Museum, Ways of Looking at an Otter, a response to an exhibit of an otter skull some 170 years old.
In the battle of the Poetry Houses, Jane Seabourne, stepped up representing Offa’s Press, to read largely from her collection Bright Morning. Jane is an easy, comfortable performer whose warm style and performance manner seamlessly merge with her readings in winning combination. She is just as at home with the lightness of Ten Signs of Spring, as she is with the domesticity of How to make a Chocolate Sponge whilst later tackling the subject of a survivor of childhood abuse with tenderness and power.
I encounter David Calcutt,who has been published by Oxford University Press regularly, yet never tire of his imaginative writing which is always delivered with boyish enthusiasm. Nature, mystery, magic and forests are recurrent themes, yet his writing is always precise and realistic, as was evidenced in his opening poem Cattle, the fantasy always grounded. His descriptions always remind me of holiday brochure photos, based in fact, yet garnished to please. He remains the only person whom I know to write a worthwhile sequence on curlews.
Bilston Voices returns on Thursday 26th
April with Jack Edwards, Iris Rhodes, Liz Lefroy, Bobby Parker and
Win Saha, 7.30pm start. 23-03-12
Western Pub, Leicester
FRESH from a hugely successful States of Independence publishing fayre event at De Montfort University, held annually, at the weekend, Shindig made its bi monthly appearance at the Western Public House.
Another healthy audience comprised those for whom Saturday was simply not enough poetry, and regulars who had been unable to make it. The standard of performance never fell short of high.
The four headline performers were particularly strong this month, and diverse in styles. Michael W. Thomas is a poet, novelist and playwright who has lived, been widely published, and performed,in several countries. His literary credentials are formidable, and stretch from Finland, to Florida and back to Albania, where he vies with Norman Wisdom for the international affections of the Albanian people. He now lives in Worcestershire. His tone tonight was reflective and elegiac.
A poignant sonnet dedicated to his father, moved through childhood reminiscence, to a particularly fine piece about schoolmate footballers cloaked in the spirit of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Jack Charlton. His most striking poem was Your Buffet... a wonderful piece inspired by the practise of American hobos to leave secret signs on telegraph poles and wires alerting others of their ilk to local rewards and dangers.
Michael performed with a rucksack at his feet containing his writing. I thought that it neatly symbolised a man whose writing is as travelled as he has been.
Host Jonathan Taylor affectionately described the next two poets as the country mouse and the town mouse respectively- in both case they were mice who roared.
PLACES AND LANDSCAPES
PLACES AND LANDSCAPES
Aly Stoneman is Nottingham based, and was promoting her new pamphlet, published by Crystal Clear Creators, Lost Lands. Her presentational style is fey, beguiling, gentle, and easy, as is her writing. The lost lands are the connections we make between places and landscapes which have held significance in our lives, how they came about, and how they change with time.
Her skill lies in her ability to juxtapose broad
brush written landscapes with pin sharp observation.
Some thirty five years ago I first saw John Cooper Clarke perform as a support act for Punk band the Buzzcocks as he dodged beer cans thrown from an impatient crowd. Fortunately the Shindig audience is more civil. Andrew “The Mulletproof Poet” Graves gladly acknowledges his debt to the Performance Poet pioneer as is evidenced by his performance style of delivery.
He describes himself as “a troubled poet for troubled times” and wryly observes that all poets are “miserable bastards on the road to self destruction” ( a claim left unchallenged by a poet full audience). Reading from his new pamphlet, published by Crystal Clear Creators, Citizen Kaned, he took us through Love in Strange Places, delivered an homage to Yuri Gagarin’s historic first manned space flight with Vostock 1, and ended with his signature Middle Aged Mod, I could not help but select Quadrophenia on my i-pod for the journey back home. Although unashamedly Performance in style, Andrew is no ranty shouty big mouth, his well chosen subject matter is matched by the economy, vibrancy and brio of his language. May the pennants on his scooter aerial flutter boldly.
Jonathan Davidson is director of Midland Creative Projects Limited, Associate Director of the Birmingham Book Festival and Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. He is an award winning published playwright and poet, but a reluctant performer, which is a shame, because his performance on the night was quite brilliant.
Light, self-effacing, amusing and entertaining, he took us on a joyous trip through his wonderful writing with a smile. The tradition at Shindig is not to applaud a poet other than upon arrival in anticipation, and upon departure, in appreciation. However such was the sharpness, wit and joy of The Manager Writes,a waspish satire on the mangled English and thoughts of a football manager’s notes in his club’s programme, that spontaneous cheering was the deserved, and only possible, outcome. His readings from his two collections, Early Train and The Living Room,were predominantly homely, but never overly sentimental and always laced with an acerbic aside. I do hope that Jonathan can be persuaded to read more regularly.
Shindig regularly boasts floor readers of the highest standard. Once again we were not disappointed. Past Birmingham Poet Laureate, National Radio’s 1&2 DJ, and local commercial and BBC radio DJ, Charlie Jordan, casually sauntered up to the mike and let her wonderful, memorized poem Words do the talking for her. Love poetry is difficult to pull off in front of an audience for several reasons. Firstly, as it is invariably a first hand account, it risks being intensely personal, and although significant to the writer, may not connect beyond. Secondly, over the centuries, Catullus, Donne and Shakespeare have set a standard which is hard to beat. Which is why I was drawn to Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson’s two efforts, Scars and I Know. She combined restraint with emotion, and anguish without vulgarity.
I always enjoy listening to Deborah Tyler –Bennett. Hitherto I have heard her only perform historic period poems. Her enthusiasm for her writing, sense of time and place, and general joie de vivre cause me to reflect that if I was transported in a time machine back to Victorian times, Deborah would be the ideal companion to show me around. Tonight she only went as far back as the 1960’s and 70’s, but was no less engaging. James Bond Will Return was a nostalgic return to the rat infested flea pits of the era, but it was Cheerful Revisited, dedicated to Ian Dury which stood out. Cleverly replicating the metre and rhythm of Dury’s Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3, it pulled off the very difficult task of mimicking, but redefining the original ( and brought back fond memories of seeing him perform).Authentic and fond, she never allowed the source material and images to swamp her writing which is the bear-trap in such pieces.
The Old Man of Hoy provided fertile ground for a magnificent landscape poem by Jayne Stanton, and the Elephant in the room provided a neat twist for Matt Merritt’s nature themed poetry, to pick just two more performances from a strong field of floor readers.
Jonathan Taylor for Crystal Clear Creators,and Jane Commane and Matt Nunn for Nine Arches Press, are to be commended for assembling both such a strong cast of performers, and creating a relaxed easy ambience for them to perform in. Shindig next meets on the 21st May, 7.30pm start, free entry, sign up for an open mic slot on the night.
Big Irish Night
Old Crown, Digbeth
Held as part of the St Patricks festival celebrations, this was a night of poetry spoken word and song in a pub that has seen more St Patricks day celebrations than most.
The Old Crown reputedly can trace its history back to 1368, but much of the existing building is mere 16th century with Queen Elizabeth I having been an honoured guest. That sense of history gives any evening held here a sense of place.
A good turnout was orchestrated by the combined skills of Laura Yates, Northfield Arts Forum co-ordinator, and Pat Murphy Wright, Cultural Development co-ordinator for Irish in Birmingham, a charity providing welfare and cultural services to the Irish community in Digbeth. Birmingham and the Midlands has a thriving poetry scene currently, operating from a wide variety of venues.
Given the rich Irish tradition of poetry, Pat is absolutely right to apply her efforts to cultivating that tradition amongst the Irish community in the city.
Laura Yates shared hosting duties with Kurly McGeachie and both had their work cut out to accommodate all the aspiring performers before closing time.
Antony R Owen read not only from his own work but also that of Joseph Horgan, from his collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea. Typically Horgan’s poems are short, the subject matter often exploring the dislocation of an ex pat Brummie now domiciled in Ireland.
The contrast between his urban roots, and his rural present,is another source of dislocation, and finds expression in his city poems. Joe skillfully 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 shrewdly observed.
Councillor Reg Corns read a moving introduction to his book about the mid 19th century forced emigration of Irish citizens to Canada aboard the notorious coffin ships to a destination that was forced to create mass graves for those who had died in the appalling conditions of the journey.tet the evening offered plenty of light and shade too.
Shirley Cooper, a stalwart of the Old Crown entertained, as did Alan Wales with his offbeat Celtic musings from Under Deadwood. Young Worcestershire Poet Laureate Laura Deadicoat’s poem on horses could not fail in such a setting and the evening was closed with a traditional Irish song, current Birmingham Poet Laureate Jan Watts having opened proceedings.
The Big Irish Night is part of an occasional series,
details of future such events and other associated cultural activities
can be found on the Irish in Birmingham website:
International Women’s Day, Birmingham Central Library Theatre
“It’s in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips. I'm a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that's me.”
So quoted host Jan Watts, current Birmingham Poet Laureate, from acclaimed American feminist poet Angelou Mayou to open an evening of poetry performed by women, but to a mixed audience, with a strong male contingent. Promoted in conjunction with Birmingham Libraries, Sue Wilkinson and Librarian of the year, Nikki Bi, were on hand to help with the organisation.
Ensemble performances are growing in popularity. In Birmingham, the Decadent Divas, Charlie Jordan, Laura Yates, Lorna Meehan and Maggie Doyle have been pioneers of the style. The new show, which ran to around 20 minutes, was entitled Love and Marriage and comprised almost entirely new material with just a few fond echoes of the previous show.
Maggie Doyle mused that “life has a habit of re-arranging life”, Charlie that we move from “falling in love to standing in love” in two memorable lines. Finished only a few hours before, an already strong script will tighten still further with familiarity. I was also mildly shocked to learn that the Grace Jones song Pull up to my Bumper referred to her backside, and not the back of her car...
Naomi Paul is a similarly experienced performer, and it showed with The Truth About the Goddess of Rhythm and The Grey Rabbit, the latter a wonderfully atmospheric tale of her journey as a hippy bussing across America, evoking the spirit of The Grateful Dead and Paul Simon whilst retaining her Englishness. Kate Faulkner trod the safe ground of body image, Jude Ashworth cast a spell with Astara.
It was a particular pleasure to see Sam Hunt’s disciplined presentation of Dolls House, about child abuse, and a delight to hear novelist and poet Christine Coleman for the first time, especially her tour de force, Becoming a Seal.
From Smart Poets Penny Hewlett read a very strong trilogy, two of which were sonnets on a converstional theme. Compelling and innovative, Penny's writing is always worth watching out for.
Cathy Gee explored Ladies in Linen prior to a particularly strong closing trio. Jacqui Rowe, who had mentored several of the performers, was as polished as ever, reading from Paint and reminding all of the importance of Jeannie Senior.
Over the past couple of years Janet Smith has emerged as an outstanding poetic voice, her understated polemic in Flares debuted with the ink still drying on the page, was excellent. Egg and Caligo I cannot wait to read on the page, their fine first impression quite evidently merely an alluring outer layer for the potency of what lies beneath.
Closing the evening was the only straight performance poetry of the night, from Scrubber Jack, a Coventry poet who tells of life as a scrubber, or a cleaner to be more precise. Base, crude and earthy, it was also honest, touching and great fun and went down very well. The venue is a fitting place to perform poetry, and the good sized audience went home rewarded and entertained by a strong bill.
On the 3rd April, in a month’s time, Jan Watts is running another women performer event themed on loss, gain at the Library Theatre starting at 7.30pm, between the 16th and 21st she is running a poetry workshop at Erdington Library.Rachel green from Community Vibe also trailed a collaborative project with Jan Watts called Poetry City an initiative to broaden awareness and the appeal of poetry in the city. 08-03-12
A Celebration: Milorad Krystanovich (1950-2011),
The Moseley Exchange, Birmingham
This event was sponsored by Nine Arches Press, publishers of Krystanovic’s latest and posthumous collection, Moses’ Footsteps, for which the evening was a launch.
A Croatian national, he had lived in Birmingham since 1992 and studied Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, was a member of Writers Without Borders, Cannon Poets and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Milorad had also worked as a language teacher at the Brasshouse Centre in Birmingham. The full room was testament to the enduring quality of the affection and admiration felt for him following his recent death
The collection itself is a delight, and a triumph of the dedication of co-editors Jane Commane and Matt Nunn, in association with various local poetic luminaries.
Poetry which is written in one language, and in that cultural tradition, is not easy to translate, even with the author there to help. Yet the themes are universal, not least of bridges, bridges between languages, cultures, places, times, pain and recovery. The primacy of atmosphere, ambience and tone, over straightforward narrative possessing an ethereal dimension.
A glittering roster of readers lined up to read their own selections from Krystanovic’s work, reminisce, and explain the reasons for their selections, the latter being both instructive, and illuminating.
Martin Underwood, Myra Connell, Julie Boden and John Alcock drew upon their personal experience with Krystanovic as a friend and fellow poet. Jonathan Morley spoke of his experiences when as editor he published The Yasen Tree with Heaventree Press, Jane Commane of her contemporary experiences on editing Moses' Footprints. Birmingham University academic Dr Luke Kennard’s selection of “Midday Flower Density” was notable in its delivery, worthiness, and his observations of the poem’s merits.
A fine evening, and an event fitting to celebrate
the life and work of a man whose reputation is assured.Moses’
Footprints (2012) and Improvising Memory (2010) are
available from Nine Arches Press (www.ninearchespress.com),
and follows on from The Yasen Tree (Heaventree Press, 2007), The Language of Wounds, Where Spirits Touch and
Four Horizons/Ceteri Vidika also previously published. 03-03-12
Poems That Rhyme
John Slim ‘s Poetry Website
John is a veteran Midland journalist whose wordsmith skills have been finely honed over decades, commenting on events that have mattered, and interviewing people who have made them matter.
He is the voice of amateur theatre in the region and his latest venture is to make a considerable collection of his own poems available by means of his own website.
His manifesto is unapologetic, he favours rhyming verse, and eschews that which does not.
The site itself is attractive and well laid out, the poetic material eclectic. The index of themed chapters offer a good indication of his subject matter; Question, Idle Thoughts, Bed, Food, Breakfast, Garden, Words, Lady, Motion and Time. The verse itself is formal, with alternate rhyming lines favoured and a consistent, insistent metre. Nostalgia is to the fore, with a touching homily to the Queen Mother, Hand in Glove, particularly satisfying, and Square World, a tribute to the quixotic vagaries of cricket.
The author’s mastery of his chosen form is self-evident, and impressive. Yet poetry does have much to offer beyond John’s chosen horizons. Complex metre, irregular rhyme, blank verse and enjambment all have much to offer the poetic alchemist. Although I share the view that some formless modern poetry lacks merit or thought, all art needs to have its boundaries pushed, and that experimentation can add colour to traditional forms once it has found its place. Not that there is no experimental material here. He bills Death Sentence as possibly the world’s longest poem to consist of only one sentence, comprising some 302 words, yet never ends, as the verse turns full circle.
However mainstream poetry has a powerful and substantial constituency and John knows the themes and forms which that constituency demands. His choice of language, form and layout, draws upon the finest traditions of rhyming poetry laced with a wistful, and at times elegiac air, interspersed with some light humorous pieces. His warmth pervades it all.
Spark Café, Lichfield
The Lichfield Poets, regulars at poetry events across the Midlands have held their own event at the Spark Café in the centre of the city, the first of an occasional series in Lichfield
It was triumph of poetic endeavour that saw 25 poets read, including six guest poets with six minutes spots at the start and finish of each of the three parts, mixed in with readers with three minute spots which, in the main, was respected to ensure that the evening kept to time.
Set in the surroundings of an everyday café that boats the comfort and intimacy the corporate coffee chains lack, we saw readers and performers from across the Midlands and one from south Yorkshire, meet to explore themes of love, relationships, of making soup, praising the roll of the goalkeeper and an observation that rock and roll deaths are not what they used to be.
The evening was hosted by Gary Longden, who did an excellent job, as a natural raconteur with his poetry and imaginative inroductions.
THE evening's performances featured three Birmingham Poet Laureates, including the current incumbent Jan Watts who started the evening with one of the six minute guest poet spots, with her take on pantomime, with a modern look at Sleeping Beauty which was delivered with a chorus of I am Sleeping Beauty in true Spartacus fashion from the audience. Her next poem was one of a memento from her Grandfather, through his Desert Spectacles and the wonder at what he saw through them, trying to capture an insight into a time of his life that he never discussed. She finished with a poem on the lure of reduced items in Sainsbury’s. She captured the audience with her mix of humour and thoughtfulness and set a high standard for the night.
Jan was followed by the first of the Lichfield Poets, Anthony Webster, who looks like a poet should with his shoulder length hair and hint of a beard.
Gary Longden strikes a rhyming note as mine host
His experience as an actor transferred to his delivery of a Love poem and appropriately for the surroundings a Cafeteria Encounter, these were delivered with a considered voice that resonated around our ears.
Next was one of the Polesworth Poets Trail poets, Penny Harper, who evoked the spirit of a dusty road in India as she travelled to a temple, capturing all the feelings and senses in her words that took you for short time to this sacred place. She followed this with a poem about the ritual and tranquillity of her husband making soup that showed an idyllic pace of life that we can all achieve if we just slow down and contemplate the pleasure of making something. Wonderful poems.
Val Thompson another of the Lichfield Poets, then explored a fascinating take on the poetry of creaks and bumps that permeate the house as pipes debate with radiators punctuated by the interjections of rafter creaks. She followed this with a piece on that time that is neither night nor day, 4:00 am as the dark shifts its curtain to introduce the dawn. Val finished with a poem called Gastric Tract that left the sufferer with pockets of pain to count the stars.
Last years Birmingham Poet Laureate Roy MacFarlane gave an excellent reading with an exploration of what freedom really is through the telling of the experience of Richard Prior at his first gig in Las Vegas where he took fright and ran away. He followed this with a tender Father and Daughter experience running through the rain, encouraging his daughter to keep going because they are nearly there, knowing that as a father this was a lesson for life, no matter what, you need to keep going because you are nearly there. This was a poignant piece and one of the readings of the night. Roy finished with Poetry and Chocolate, how he needs both, with words that gave the listener the poetic experience of eating the finest, smoothest, richest delight.
then explored an Organic Woman through her relationship with her mother
and the experience of boxing up a lifetime of experience into the
removal van with Job Spec. She finished with Perfect Sight that
questioned what Her Majesty the Queen would think, should she visit one
of her Prisons, all too good effect.
This section was finished with second guest poet and former Birmingham Poet Laureate Charlie Jordan whose well crafted clever poems delivered from memory captivated the audience as she explored through sonnets observing a lover shaving with all the tender expectation of young love.
She followed this with a sonnet in praise Goalkeepers, empathising with their plight of being under appreciated when they save the shot and prevent the goal, to being the butt of criticism when the ball makes it into the back of the net. Her final poem delivered another of the performances of the night. The poem about words and taking care of our words, saw the audience hold its breath so as not to miss a single nuance of this skilfully crafted poem.
THE SECOND part was opened by Gary who settled the audience back to the poetry with his poem that suggested that Rock and Roll death’s are not what they once were, more purple hearse than purple haze and that it was what you achieved before you die rather than an MTV funeral that defined true musical legends. This was well delivered and very well received.
Gary then introduced the next guest poet, also from Birmingham and a fine poet she is too. Marcia Calame defines herself through her poems; she is the ink on the page that needs to be read. Her second poem Bric-a-Brac described the little shop of everything, where the price of goods was valued by the customers. This clever poem about doing, believing and getting your hands dirty, taking hopes and smiles and creating your own bliss by putting your own value on things and not expecting to be fed your entertainment and opinions. Another performance of the night. She finished with My Anthem another defining poem with a rhythm that describes what drives her. She is someone I have not heard read before and will certainly try and catch again.
Jan Watts with her take on pantomimes
Jan Watts with her take on pantomimes
Marcia was followed by a performance from Ian Ward, another of the Lichfield Poets who often reads on the poetry circuit. He made the most of his three minutes through delivering poetry without the preamble, letting the poems speak for themselves, as he gave us his take on 9/11, our dance and life at the Borderline. I often see poets give two or three minutes of explanation and then deliver a sixty second poem and I admire Ian’s approach last night as he maintained our poetry listening ears throughout his spot.
Next came Poet and Actor, Claire Corfield, whose stage experience showed through her presence in engaging and audience with an Ode to Speedo’s and the unattractive look that men of a certain age use to haunt Mediterranean beaches. She followed this with the first of three references on the night that played some sort of homage to Dylan Thomas. Her poem about the death of wasps in pints of summer beer was a triumph bringing in the thoughts of Thomas’ famous villanelle and ending with lyrics of Vera Lynn. She finished with a character piece, in the persona of a titled lady who liked killing animals. Great poems and an accomplished performance.
We were delighted further with the work of the leader of the Lichfield Poets, Janet Jenkins, whose imagery in her art inspired poems captured the flow and swirl of dance in Dancing for Degas; she followed this with Behind the Mask, as the painting of model Lily Cole wearing a mask berates the viewer as a voyeur. Janet finished by giving the awkward shaped figure in a Modigliani painting a voice that expressed her discomfort and dismay of being the muse, whose likeness would forever be seen as distorted effigy. Janet is to be commended for her expressive thoughts transferred into poetry using the art gallery as her muse.
Following Janet came the first of
the Runaway Writers’ from Burton, Terri Jolland, gave us a
thoughtful piece on some of unconventional nature of her mother through
dress making, which was finished with describing thunder as her late
mother riding a Harley Davidson across the clouds. She further delighted
us with a new take on Gilbert & Sullivan and the Modern High
Executioner. Both well received by the appreciative audience.
Janet Smith whose Poetry Trail Poem is about an Owl, continued with the theme of birds through magpies with two poems that gathered together the wild landscape, of moorlands and breezes into word images that occupied our minds, taking the natural world and rippling it into our thoughts.
She continued this with her third poem on Cracker Butterflies and their associations with hamadryads. Janet is a voice that can hold a room, suspending the moment into which she fills with her words.
To close the second part the fourth of the guest poets David Calcutt, who gave another excellent reading, even though it was briefly interrupted by the departure of the knitting group who had been… knitting – I guess, in the room upstairs.
Anthony Webster, a man with the look of
poet about him
Anthony Webster, a man with the look of poet about him
David started with a poem inspired by Brontë Country, written in and around Howarth.
His second poem that came from his work with people with dementia. Through fading memory come the shaking hands, which his observations led to him questioning “What are these Restless Creatures.
This was a moving piece that provides and insight in to a condition that is shunned in the fear that we may end up that way and don’t want to face it.
David’s work in the area of dementia can only help to break down these barriers.
David finished with two nature poems, The enchanted forest, which described the wonder of the forest and its destruction, was followed by one of my favourite of David’s poems The Day of Leaving, inspired by a trip to Laugharne (second Dylan Thomas reference) in South Wales and is the observation of curlews and the significance of them moving on in the cycle of the year, another memorable performance of the night.
I had the honour of being guest poet to open the third part with a selection from my recent commissions. I was followed by a poet new to all of us, Sheffield Skinny Matt, who had, as his name suggests, travelled down from Sheffield. He is to be commended for travelling all that way to deliver just a single poem. His humorous take on Matching Cardigan Couples was witty and sharp in its observation. It would be good to hear more from Matt in the future and to give him a space to give more than this brief taste of his work.
Following Matt, came Ben McNair who gave use a thoughtful piece entitled – This is how if feels before the rain, followed by a cleverly crafted unapologetic poem A Warning, which was well delivered and much appreciated by the audience – it is one of those poems that you think – wow, why didn’t I think of doing that. Both are available on Ben’s recent Kindle E-book collection.
Our third homage to Dylan Thomas came from the hilarious poetic tales from Alan Wales, who read an instalment from his Under Deadwood, delivered in excited tones as if we were in Brown’s Hotel bar in Laugharne. Alan gave a voice to daily lives through double entendre and playful quip that left the audience rolling with laughter in the way that only Alan can.
Margaret Torr from the Burton Runaway Writers followed with a poem Swan –that she describes as a white warrior on the Trent. She continued with a poem on the closeness of a relationship that can still have its distances with Running Parallel. Margaret always captures the essence of a feeling in her work and then delivers it as an accomplished story teller who engages the audience with her words and accompanying movements as she brings the swan into the room and the breeze between the lovers.
Janet Smith found her inspiration from wildlife
Janet Smith found her inspiration from wildlife
Tom Wyre read from his collection Soliloquy with his well crafted poems Joe Hamster about life on the treadmill and The Whalers Anthem, the latter he wrote as a young man, still has the freshness of his more recent work. Tom has a presence and voice to also hold an audience and last night was not exception. His collection is one that I would recommend, with all the proceeds going to charity.
The final guest poet was Gary Carr, fresh from his guest reading at the Fizz and hosting Spoken Worlds in Burton. Gary gave an assured performance of some of his best performance pieces. Starting with his take on performing in front of a Microphone and moving on to nature of a man as an octopus. His love letter to his daughter has all the tender, caring expression of a father’s joy in being a parent, which he admits took twenty years to write, but then he was being a dad and enjoying the moments that all dad’s should. His poem Fish captures the relationship between man and his landscape and sharing the world with all of nature. He finished with his wonderful poem Without you, where he finds his virginity hiding in a box under his bed and careful restores it safely so that he does not lose it again. Gary writes poems that work on many levels from the sometimes flippant outer level to deeper meanings that nestle in our thoughts of understanding the world. An excellent performance from a respected poet.
With still a few minutes remaining there was time for three sixty second slots, which saw Marcus Taylor tell of how he is God’s gift to the women of Birmingham, Guy Jenkins give his vision of Industry and Brian Asbury read his poem using only words beginning with M with Mad Military Mishaps. All to great effect.
Poetry Alight was a terrific evening of poetry and long may it continue even as an occasional event. It is a welcome addition to the poetry calendar in a place where you would expect poetry events to happen. The Lichfield Poets are to be congratulated for organising and promoting this fabulous first event and especially Gary Longden whose hosting skills made the evening flow easily and provided for the relaxed enjoyment of poetry.
The next Poetry Alight will be on
May 15th 2012 at the Spark Café, Tamworth St, Lichfield. 28-02-12
Mal Dewhirst is the leader of Polesworth Poets, a poetry broadcaster on Radio Wildfire, and budding film director. The above review is produced, with permission, from his blog:Pollysworda: http://pollysworda.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/it-takes-just-a-spark-to-set-poetry-alight/
Puns, Poems 'n' Pints
Station Pub, Sutton Coldfield
THERE was something really lovely about this evening. Maybe it was the fact it was a charity event, raising money for Sutton Coldfield Amnesty International group, or maybe it was the massive amount of support emanating from the audience to those behind the mic.
Whether it was comedy, poetry, storytelling or song, whether it was moving or funny, whether it went to plan or slightly awry - every act was given rousing applause.
It was a patchwork of an evening with contributions accepted on the night but just about everyone gave it their best shot and it worked really well.
Kicking off the evening was compere and AISC chairman Andrew Hindle in a comedy alter ego Arthur Boomerangerang. Easing everyone in lightly, there were plenty of puns (and did I spy a pint?) to warm the night up.
Andrew's other appearances were to read children's poems and a particularly lively rendition of Michael Rosen's Chocolate Cake had us all licking our lips.
There was plenty of poetry - John Todd read a wry Deep Sorriness Atonement Song by Glyn Maxwell while Rita Todd adapted Ogden Nash's Ma, What's a Banker? to bring it bang up to date.
Original verse came in the shape of Will Hitchcock's The Christie Poem which cleverly featured the titles of countless books by the Queen of the Crime Novel - I lost count half way through and then starting wondering 'was that a book title after all?'
James Morris-Knight also shared some verse with us - Falmouth
being a meditation on the Cornish town and Roll Call a particularly dry
and witty round-up of the after-school exploits of his former
Sutton comedienne Sheila M serenaded the audience with a tongue-in-cheek version of the song My Guy, rolled out a whole series of clever one-liners and indulged in a bit of humorous storytelling.
And storytelling also appears to come naturally to
Ann Simpson whose tales of life in Lancashire were both amusing and
colourful with extraneous details really bringing the characters and
This is the second year running the AI group has organised this event and it was thoroughly enjoyable. A small crowd was the only disappointment, those who were unable to come missed a real treat.
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton upon Trent
One of the pleasures of spoken word events is that you are never quite sure what you are going to hear when you turn up. This was no exception.
The relationship between lyrics and poetry over the years has been an uneasy one. Great songs and albums have frequently been underscored with lyrics which were either aural filler, or pretentious nonsense, with some honourable exceptions.
Local poet and film director Mal Dewhirst has turned
his attentions to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album, and a
fascinating project it is.
On their 1977 tour Pink Floyd took exception to the behaviour of some of the very fans on their tour who had helped to make them multimillionaire superstars, with Roger Waters suggesting that they build a wall to cut themselves off from the troublesome oiks, prompting him to write an album on just that theme.
Although commercially a huge success, the album has not worn well, with the exception of Comfortably Numb and Another Brick in the Wall. Mal has resolved to make good Water’s lyrical shortcomings for an ambitious production of the show in Tamworth this summer by rewriting some of them. Tonight he debuted The Thin Ice, and a very good job he made of it too. I await the results of the remainder of the much needed redrafting with great interest. Whether he will turn his directorial skills to improve on Alan Parker ‘s film is, as yet, unconfirmed.
Jarvis Cocker has recently moved from intelligent lyricist to published poet with his new Faber published collection. The rise of Poetronica may yet see the burgeoning contemporary spoken word scene bite back into the world of contemporary lyricists who seem to have given up political fight, eschew word play, and trawl the lowest common denominator for effect.
There are some great new mainstream lyricists out there, Matt Berninger (The National), James Mercer (The Shins), Devendra Banhart to name but three, and in England we have a great tradition of lyricists stretching back through Damon Albarn, Neil Tennant, Elvis Costello, Ray Davies to Cole Porter. But maybe a new project might be to rewrite the lyrics for some classic songs?
Maybe Mal is onto something here? It is not as outlandish a concept as it may seem. 19th century hymn writers did it all the time. Great melody- shame about the words, and pen in hand they thought nothing of writing something better. Why shouldn’t we do the same? Patti Smith redrafted Bruce Springsteen’s Because the Nigh to great effect. Perhaps the surprise is that it has not been done more – until now.......................
Unusual poetic inspiration was a feature of the night. Tom Wyre drew upon Dickens for an ambitious themed list poem, Peter Costelloe opted for 19th century bull-running in Tutbury. Bert Flitcroft is a dapper urbane sophisticate who turned his poetic sights upon road rage on the M42 in unlikely, but amusing and accomplished form. Fresh from her success at Bilston Voices, Janet Jenkins name-checked Birmingham Art Gallery, which Mal had also used for inspiration, and Lichfield Cathedral, which Dea Costelloe had in turn based a poem upon.
Ray and Teri Jolland are a Spoken Worlds institution for heir comedy sketches, and they did not let us down this month with Its All an Act. It was good to hear host and organiser Gary Carr read some of his own material, his line “Every mirror taunts with its own veracity” the most memorable of the evening. As an experiment, proceedings were audio recorded for the evening, providing a useful archive for future use.
Spoken Worlds returns at 7.30pm on Friday 23rd
March, free admission. 24-02-12
Metro Cafe, Church St, Bilston
Running successful poetry nights is not easy. Audiences take time and patience to build, and are fickle.If you don’t give them what they want, the venue will be empty next time around.
So it is to Emma Pursehouse’s great credit, as organiser, that she has built up an audience that invariably fills this cafe, and continues to source poets of sufficient quality to ensure that the audience keeps coming back.
Who specifically is performing does not overly affect attendance. It is the guarantee of good quality and an entertaining night that does the trick.
The evening started in reflective, commemorative, mode as Geoff Stevens was remembered. Geoff was a prodigious local poet and publisher with roots firmly planted in the Black Country, and with many friends. His recent death touched the local and regional poetic community that he served, and entertained so well in his life. His friend Al Barz read three of Geoff’s poems in tribute.
Geoff’s humour in Animal Magic, about the sponsoring of zoos, brought gales of laughter, Sleeping With You, a love poem to Geraldine, was sentimental and touching without being in the least mawkish. A measure of the quality of a poet’s writing often lies in how well others can interpret them – Al Barz did Geoff proud.
First on, and making his Bilston Voices debut, was Alan Glover. Many writers experience the highs and lows of life in magnified form and Alan was happy to lay bare his encounters with the lows with several pieces that felt like works of expiation.
Intriguingly, I thought his best work lay outside of that sequence. Digital photography was a list poem that was well conceived, sharp and funny, Sixth Form Prose was simple knockabout stuff that worked brilliantly, read for him, by Emma Purshouse.
Another Bilston Voices debutante, but an experienced performer, was Janet Jenkins from Lichfield Poets. She produced a carefully crafted, and varied set, delivered with confidence and assurance. Gardens, a writing project at Birmingham Art Gallery, love, and false teeth all caught Janet’s poetic attention. It was her piece on Modigliani from the Art Gallery sequence which stood out tonight.
Donna Scott, once of Bilston is now a Milton Keynes resident and she closed the first half with brio and chutzpah. I Love Cake is very funny, her Introducing poem very clever, although the ending was a little abrupt. Charity Case, she had written that very morning and was hugely enjoyable, introducing the fascinating concept of the fashion womble. Bright and breezy, she entertained throughout and even found time to rhyme Bahamas with Judith Chalmers!
Opening the second half was the newly anointed Bard of Stony Stratford, Danni Antagonist. Performing work available in her two collections, Emotion’s Memory and NSFW, I was struck by the interesting rhyming patterns she uses and her relaxed delivery. Bless This was her tour de force, and the poem which resonated with me most from the entire evening.
The tale of how she is helping her father clear out the loft of their family home, it oozed pathos, compassion, wistful reflection and warmth. It worked because although it was ostensibly about clearing out a clutter filled loft, it was also written in the shadow of her late mother who was part of that clutter, who wasn’t mentioned, but whose presence lingered implicitly, not explicitly. An object lesson in good writing.
Later on in the evening, the question was asked as to whether poets should write as observers or participants ? The writer’s skill is in expressing personal experience in a form that is universally understood, Danni succeeded in that challenge with this poem.
Top of the bill was Mark Niel, now working as a full time poet. I have watched Mark’s career unfold from Slam champion, to the professional troubadour he has now become. His slickness as a performer is now finely honed with performance at the heart of his act. Bubbling full of ideas, he is appearing at the Wenlock Poetry festival in April, and has an exciting project involving reworking classic poems as modern, accessible performance pieces in the pipeline. Tonight, he stuck with established favourites like My Half of the Fridge in a well rehearsed set that felt more one-man show than poetry reading, and was well received by an appreciative audience.
Bilston Voices returns on Thursday 22nd March with a
terrific line-up that includes Dave Finchett, Jacquie Rowe, Joel Lane,
Jane Seabourne and David Calcutt. 23-02-12
And another voice...
A NOTE to Bilston Voices virgins; if Emma books you to a appear please don’t think it has to be poetry, you can tell us a story, or even reminisce a little, as long as you engage with us. That is the key to getting along with us. The venue is small enough for you to see most faces as you look around while you are performing, so please smile at us and treat us like friends, the people who were booked to join us for February 2012 did.
Having said that, Al Barz took on the task of opening the evening with a short tribute to the late Geoff Stevens by reading three of his poems. The first one Fixed Wheel engaged us in Geoff’s life away from poetry and reminded us of the nature of his background. From wistfulness to gentle smiles and even the odd chuckle, as we listened to Animal magic about adopting animals and Lovers, a tribute that Geoff wrote to his wife, Geraldine. Thank you Al.
How do you follow that? Alan Glover, a Bilston Voices virgin, bared his soul to us and took us through the ups and downs, or is it downs and ups of depression with a selection of poems. I particularly enjoyed Town centre churchyard, a subject that I have found inspiring in the past.
Another BV newcomer Janet Jenkins was next up. As one of the Lichfield poets, she is not inexperienced and soon engaged us in her lively vocal interpretations of life in her garden. A couple of pieces written in Birmingham Museum gave voices to a bronze called Dancing for Degas and to the model in a portrait by Modigliani.
Donna Scott, on the other hand is a Bilston girl who moved abroad, first to the east Midlands and now lives in the country they call Milton Keynes. Donna loves cake, so it was no surprise that she opened with a poem that said so. Whether she likes her name is debatable as we heard a lot of alternatives mooted in her poem Names; her taste in clothes is not, she has a very distinct style and it suits her, not that a Fashion womble cares anyway. Like many of us, she has a partner who is addicted to a certain TV programme, in her case Top Gear and I really felt as one with her poem Life is the Stig. Donna was warmly welcomed home before we adjourned for a libation and the odd cake.
Danni Antagonist is the Bard of Stoney Stratford, quite a title to live up to, but she did, chatting to us in a very articulate manner about life and her poetry, the latter mesmerised me, as she performed one after the other in a very professional manner. As a supporter of Bilston in Bloom, I was very interested in the village Community orchard and the contemplative Bless this about clearing out the attic in an old family home really struck a personal chord.
Last up was Mark Niel, who is not a complete stranger to Bilston, having won a Bilston Love Slam and performed at a variety night as part of his prize, but it was his first gig after turning professional. Most of his performance was not new to some of us, but the way Mark performed made it seem very fresh. Most of Mark’s poetry tends to be lively with a humorous touch and even the touching Alan Neil 1931 – 2011 a tribute to his late father had a lightness to the pathos, I loved it. As Mark is not a small man he filled the room once he got up to perform in the confines of the café, but that only brought him closer to his audience and Mark loves audiences, as he told us in his final work, aptly entitled I love audiences. Would a chest wax be in order, Mark?Eileen Ward- Birch
The 5th Bilston Love Slam
Imperial Ballroom, Bilston
This is now a well established event drawing competitors from as far away as Gloucester and Manchester. That success is down to the alchemy of Emma Purshouse’s pre show organisational skills, and the onstage charisma of co-hosts Marcus Moore and Sarah Jane Arbury.
The latter’s routine is a simple one, Marcus plays the grumpy old git, Sarah Jane the flighty glamour puss, it works a treat. They operate under the Spiel Unlimited banner hosting slams around the country and organising poetry workshops and retreats. The road honed experience that brings was much in evidence tonight.
Fifteen entrants fought it out over three knock-out rounds, with the first round demanding a love theme. Curiously this brought out the serious and soppy side in our poets rather than the satirical and waspish edge which you might have expected. Performer Fergus McGonigal was even moved to kiss his wife afterwards!
Overall this was an event for seasoned performers with two thirds well known to me. Special mention should be made of Jackie Evans, the least experienced of the slammers who performed with courage and conviction.
The opening compulsory theme had a curiously destabilising effect on the pecking order one might have assumed. Richard Tyrone Jones is a poet of local and national repute, and his poem form a tower block was very strong, but didn’t take him through to the next round. Equally local star Heather Wastie performed an intelligent, sharp and wistful piece about the importance of kisses on e-mails, but met a similar fate.
Louise Stokes writes accomplished poetry both as herself, and as her alter-ego, the street sharp chav, Kimmy Sue Ann. This time she hedged her bets by performing a Kimmy Sue Ann poem as herself.
It was good to see her “work” a character and idea which has so much potential a bit harder, taking her character on a Spanish holiday this time. Her partner’s snoring endeared itself to Jane James in a little gem of a poem, Peter Wyton’s word play around his Swiss army wife was possibly a bit too convoluted for its own good.
The poet whom I felt most sorry for was Steve Rooney. Greetings Cards was excellent, but as the final poet before the break, he acknowledged that the only thing between a hungry audience and an aromatic curry was him – he didn’t get through.
At this point it is worth mentioning two curious features of Slams. The first is “points creep”. The judges always start low, and as the evening wears on, and alcoholic intake increases, then ramp up the scoring. The first, arbitrarily chosen trio scored 209/200/200 respectively, the final trio 239/254/218. Were the last trio really almost 20% better than the first? Fortunately the highest score from each trio goes through so that even though the lowest score from the last trio was higher than the highest from the last, that low scorer from the first group still went through.
The second curiosity is that five out of the six semi finalists were men, even though seven out of the fifteen contestants were women.
Why is difficult to explain. The audience was roughly 50/50 men and women, the six judges an exact 50/50 split. So this was a case of women voting for men. Of course it is possible that the men were just much better than the women. My own judgement is that was not so, and an experienced female performer suggested to me that, for whatever reason, this outcome was quite common.
I don’t have an easy answer to this. On my travels I expect, and find, the best female poets to be more than a match for their male counterparts, yet still there is substance to the claim of female disadvantage. I would welcome your thoughts when you next see me – or by message.
Local circuits can be dominated by familiar faces, so it was a particular pleasure when a Manchester contingent appeared for the night, and did so well. Rod Thames’ material was very strong in both rounds, and I suspect would have been amongst the strongest of the evening on the page.
Dave Viney oozed smooth Mancunian swagger as trademarked by Liam Gallagher. I gained the impression that the Noisy Neighbours whom he name-checked in his poem would have got short shrift from him. Dominic Berry went one step further and even wore a Noel Gallagher style parka whilst delivering the performance of the night in the first round with his paean to aubergines, and his sharp love poem Time Travellers in the second, but it was Kieren King who made it through to the final. Fergus McGonigal entertained splendidly with his Hangover lament, but it was Lorna Meehan’s experiences as a lesbian extras arm on a television show which carried her through to the final.
One of the pleasures of reviewing the Midland’s poetry scene for some years now is watching talent grow. Lorna has always been a very good poet, but now she is adding polish and a relaxed confidence to her overall performance which manifested itself in a splendid Rock Chick, which was just trumped by Kieren King’s, Whatever Happened to the Heroes, for the judge’s vote, both working on a musical theme.
Kieren was a worthy winner, and I later learned that
all of the Manchester boys were indebted to the inspiration of fellow
Mancunian Ben Mellor, who won the Radio 4 National Slam in Birmingham
three years ago, and is appearing in Worcester next week. Kieren’s work
was pithy, economical, and incisive in an evening where comic poetry,
which so often dominates slams, was scarcely in evidence. He has an
invite to join the next variety bill at the Imperial on the 28th
April which also features Steve Rooney from last night’s performers.
Lunchtime Poetry with Write Down Speak Up
Ort Cafe, Moseley Rd, Balsall Heath
THE ORT cafe is part of the Old Print Works occupying a space previously given over to ink mixing.
The building includes 30+ business units for skilled professionals creating fine crafted goods, open access workshop and performance spaces, the cafe itself, a massive gallery hall for exhibitions and community events, as well as a Skills Shed for after school training, apprenticeships and practical hands-on learning sessions for young people.
Local older volunteers are encouraged to exchange their skills with others. This innovative development is taking place at the old factory of a successful printing company, which stands almost opposite the historic swimming baths. A major focus of The Old Print Works is preserving and celebrating its history whilst demonstrating that old buildings can be rehabilitated through intermediate technologies for low-carbon and sustainable use.
This one off event was a poetry first at a cafe that has only been open since November but which is awash with innovation and activity.
Write down Speak Up is Birmingham’s leading poetry collective and arrived to bring a suitably innovative event comprising performances from the three visiting poets, and take audio visual recordings of audience contributions to the Big Brum Poem, a compilation of community offerings from across the city being displayed on Victoria Square’s Big Screen throughout the year.
Poet and national and Regional DJ Charlie Jordan tantalised by imagining various market foods as parts of the male body, Kurly McGeachie made everyone Smile as the pro-poets set the mood.
A very good turn-out elicited contributions from established poetic talents like Elizabeth Charis, Lizzy Piphany, Shabz Ahmed and Chris Akers – as well as several exciting new ones including saxophonist Jo from up and coming local band The Heels.
The pro poets inspired, and the enthusiastic audience followed. A steady stream of latent poetic talent declared itself as the afternoon unfolded including Mums whose rhyming skills had been reawakened by reciting nursery rhymes and lapsed or hidden talent that had simply not had the opportunity to have a go previously. Keep an eye open on the Big Screen for when the Ort Cafe and its audience and their contributions are featured.
The cafe itself is an excellent venue for poetry and co-owners, and philosophy graduates, Richi, Josephine and Noemi are keen for it to be used more widely as such.
An incredibly diverse bill of events which takes in maths classes, language coaching, theatre, philosophy, film, sewing and a Swap Shop provides a bohemian arty audience and ambience well suited to things poetic. Add freshly cooked and baked food and a range of reasonably priced drinks and you have a resipe for success.
For future events Ort Cafe has its own
website:www. ortcafe. co. uk and is on Facebook under Ort Cafe and The
Old Print Works. 11-02-12
The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse, Castle Gates, Shrewsbury
This was the inaugural evening of what is to be a monthly event which Behind the Arras was pleased to support.
Normally to be an open mic, the first evening was launched by Liz Lefroy and Vuyelwa Carwin. Although Shropshire is quite well served by storytelling evenings, poetry hitherto has been a little thinner on the ground.
Wilfred Owen is a past resident, so a resurrection of the poetic tradition in the town is not before time.
The Shrewsbury Coffeehouse itself is a good venue, centrally situated in Castle Gates by the castle with car parks a short walk away.
It is licensed as well as selling the usual range of coffee, teas and cakes with a rustic, welcoming ambience offering a good reception facility. The poetry itself is held downstairs in a dedicated room, accessible but private, as the upstairs still functions normally whilst the poetry takes place downstairs.
Liz Lefroy lead the evening in some style. She lectures in Social Care at Glyndwr University in Wrexham. Her pamphlet Pretending the Weather, published by Long Face Press, won the Roy Fisher Prize for Poetry and is endorsed by both Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke.
Although she lives in Shrewsbury she is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Keele University. She opened the evening by commenting on the recent Geoffrey Hill v Carol Ann Duffy spat, tactfully opining that Poets were not renowned for being team players whilst also praising the qualities of Mills and Boon writing, which lead nicely into an airing for her freshly composed Team Players upon which the ink had barely dried that day.
ECONOMIC AND STYLISH
ECONOMIC AND STYLISH
I had travelled specifically to hear Liz and was not disappointed. The School Concert was a beautiful hymn to her son, Leaving told of the familiar desire in all of us sometimes to run away from work, My Ambiguous Relationship with Rain her tour de force. A strong spoken performer of her own work, her writing is economic and stylish, accessible but clever. She read nothing from her prize winning pamphlet which is a testament to the depth of her portfolio, and a treat yet to come.
The headlining poet was Vuyelwa Carlin who was born in South Africa,, brought up in Uganda, and has lived for many years now in Shropshire - Vuyelwa means 'rejoicing at the birth of a girl' in Xhosa.
Her poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies in the UK and abroad. She has published four poetry collections to date and has won prizes in both the Cardiff and National Poetry Competitions. She is also a Hawthornden Fellow.
Her publications include; How We Dream of the Dead, Marble Sky, Midas’ Daughter and The Solitary, published by Impress Books. The past five years she has worked as a carer in an Elderly Mentally Infirm unit, inspiring her opening poems about patients with dementia, which she writes with love and affection. Thereafter, she took in a sequence on the Holocaust and her own family relationships.
Poetry and Plaques was the strongest of her dementia sequence, which always referenced her patient’s first names, cementing the identity which they themselves were losing. Namirembe Cathedral , the red brick cathedral in Kampala, she dedicated to David Cato the murdered Ugandan gay rights activist.
The poem itself was as strong as the diatribe she offered on the regressive Ugandan regime aided and abetted by a fundamentalist church element. It offered a strong sense of place and I would have liked to have heard more of her work set in Africa. That immediacy and sense of being there was noticeably, and inevitably stronger, than her Holocaust pieces. In the latter she was fond of using biblical epigraphs, to mixed effect. On the one hand they offered solemnity by historical association, but on the other they softened the impact of the message.
Her strength lies in her ability to offer powerful glimpse into her subjects. Of Ellen she quoted: “ I wish I could be a little girl again, I wish I could go back in time. ” Of Mary, a beleaguered centenarian, she observed: “She would have liked to have gone earlier, but didn’t know how to. ”
The next Poetry Evening is on Thursday, 01-03-12 at Shrewsbury Coffee House. 02-02-12.
Old Cottage Tavern, Burton-Upon-Trent
2012 has now well and truly dusted its boots off and made itself at home, and as January comes to a close so the first round of regular poetry events are completed.
Establishing, and maintaining success, as a spoken word event is no easy task, but here there is a device which works particularly well, three Acts with two intervals. This enables performers to perform work with wildly varying moods and dynamics on the same evening in separate chunks.
Andy Biddulph “The Burton Poet” combines the personas of an enfant terrible and eminence grise all in one enthusiastic package as he stalks the streets of Staffordshire and south Derbyshire with his distinctive brand of politically inspired poetry.
From the soft targets and soft underbelly of Bankers, to the more oblique, but just as interesting question of control of the waterways, Andy has a (Left) view, and a welcome one it is too. His kindle book “An Interesting Life by Mistake” is available on Amazon.
Nudging the evening along, Gary Carr did his usual seamless job, although I always feel that I would like to hear more from him as he tends to throw in little gems like Starlings, before introducing the next act, leaving the audience thinking, “Hang on!”
A rewarding aspect of being a long serving part of the local poetry scene is watching individuals explore their poetic selves. Ian Ward writes from a wide variety of places, taking in fantasy, contemporary music, grotesque, and love poetry.
Tonight he surprised me with some Sea Shanty inspired pieces inspired by his time in the South West which were delivered with a conviction which transformed the Old Cottage Tavern into The Smugglers Cove somewhere in Cornwall.
Local poet Pete told “Burton Tales”, the most worrying of which was that “Pizza Hut” has deserted its town centre pitch (was it too upmarket?).
Tom Wyre read extensively, his piece on whale hunting being the piece i enjoyed most. His bustling off stage personality an intriguing contrast to the reflective tone and mellifluous ambience he brings to his work. Margaret Torr did what she does best, double volley of conceived and executed poems, before retiring, leaving us wanting more.
Ray and Terri Jolland always have some comic light entertainment written, and this time was no exception, although Mal Dewhirst amused too with his recollections of the Branston Water Park Arts Festival where both the audience, and even the geese, were resistant to verse and rhyme.
His Aspiration Boulevard sequence was particularly strong, howver i can never hear him introduce it by name without thinking of Heartbreak Avenue by the Maisonettes !
Spoken Worlds next meets on Friday 24th February at 7. 30pm 27-01-12
The Crown, Stony Stratford
THE Bardic Council of Stony Stratford is proud to announce Danni Antagonist as the new Bard of Stony Stratford. The Bardic Trials of 2012 were held at the Crown pub in the Market Square and are now a firm fixture in the town's cultural calendar and coincide with the Stony Words literary festival.
Tthe event invites contenders to compete for the
esteemed status of Town Bard, now recognised as an official civic
position by Stony Stratford Town Council. The Bard personifies the
spirit of collective creativity, culture and community within the town,
acting as its lyrical ambassador and representing its interests at home
Ian is attempting to claim overtime payment for the extra week, a dispute which will hopefully be resolved at a Bardic Tribunal. As a writer and performer, Danni is a deserving candidate for Bardic status, regularly performing to high acclaim at live poetry events all over the country, as well as being a founder and co-host of Poetry Kapow!
She is ideally suited to represent the vibrant spirit of live performance in Stony Stratford.
During the Trials, contenders performed before a packed audience as well as the The Bardic Council – a panel of judges comprised of Mark Niel, the Poet Laureate of Milton Keynes; Ian Freemantle, the outgoing Bard; Fay Roberts, poet and organiser of many poetry events; Justin Thyme, head of the Bardic Chair of Northampton, and the Duke of Stony himself, Ken Daniels.
This year, seven noble champions entered the trials - Adam Fox, Naomi Rose, Richard Frost, Kevin Sullivan, Trevor Jones, Andy Powell and Danni Antagonist.
All deserve special recognition for the quality of their contributions to the Trials. Contenders were eliminated over three rounds until the remaining two, Danni and Richard, faced each other in the final.
The judges and the audience all voted for their
preferred contender, ensuring a fair and democratic process from which
the Bard emerges as the true choice of the people of Stony. Many thanks
to all who turned out on a cold January evening to create a warm and
receptive atmosphere and help to turn a new chapter in Bardic history.
Metro Cafe, Bilston
It might have been a cold January evening, but the Bilston Voices regulars turned out in their usual numbers to see and hear the latest contributors. This month, organiser Emma Purshouse had brought together a variety of performers, including a couple from well outside our normal Black Country catchment area.
Eileen Ward-Birch kicked off the evening with a pot pourri of poetry, prose and reminiscence. Eileen gave a warm and confident performance, entertaining the audience with her verse and a very well written piece about day trips to Ribbesford. The set was punctuated with some 'heckling' from Eileen's husband Mick which gave rise to some lively banter between the two of them, all of which added to the audience's enjoyment.
Ann Clarson from Bloxwich is a mature lady with a very lively youthful outlook on life that she conveys through her verse. Her comments on defying age as she dressed, but then looking in the mirror were most insightful, as was her take on dieting. Ann had come to see us on her birthday, so we all sang Happy Birthday to her after her performance by way of thanks.
Last up before the ‘cake break’ Cathryn Ravenhal, a deceptively demure looking young lady from Rugby, gave us a view of her job through poetry inspired by people she meets, including an outspoken list poem called Know Wise Cracks, which consists of words that could be used as insults; even I heard a couple of new ones, thanks Cathryn.
Having travelled from Nottingham with her ‘bag of tricks’ Nicki Hastie produced a pair of her stress balls that she uses at work, then told us about growing up uncertain of her sexuality, until she finally came out as a lesbian. I was most impressed with her poem, Shifting sands about how, as a teenager, she encouraged her brother to admit that he was gay.
The evening ended with a selection of traditional and not so traditional folk songs by Billy Spakemon (vocals) and Lozz Hipkiss (guitar). The pair soonhad us all singing along to Shut the Cairtins Gerald, about Queen Victoria travelling through the Black Country on her train. Followed by the Bricklayer’s Daughter who caused havoc in Oldbury and hard times in the workhouse.
Next meeting, 7. 30pm, 23 February.. Bilston Voices has grown from a tentative beginning to one of the most popular spoken word events in the Black Country where performers who are invited along can be sure of a warm welcome from a good audience.
Black Country Night Out
Café Metro, Bilston
JANUARY often leaves people a little low after the big Christmas and New Year celebrations, so the idea of a Black Country night out was very welcome, so much so that the seventy seats available in the Back Room of Café Metro sold out before Christmas and had a waiting list.
It was a chilly evening, but we were soon warmed up by lively Derek Mack and his ‘impressions’ of Tom Jones singing some of Tom’s early hits. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, despite his rapport with the audience, he failed to sell any of his tapes that he initially assured us that had four songs and were only a pound each.
Dave Reeves was next up with a selection of works from his new collection, Black Country Dialectics, which was launched a few weeks previously at Bilston library. Dave’s take on computer jargon is very interesting, as are his tales of Bionic Aynuk and Boz in the Black Country. He must be near the front of a growing number of writers who are working hard to preserve our unique heritage from a modern angle.
The first half was brought to a close by The Fizzog Theatre Company with their hilarious take on four old ladies travelling abroad, with a short appearance of Derek Mack, as an ‘Italian stallion’. We rolled with laughter and wondered how such young women could create these characters, but we’re glad they do.
I must confess that I am in two minds about the Fizzogs; on the one hand, I think they are so good they should be getting more recognition outside the region, on the other, I don’t want to see them move out of reach of their regular audiences. Their new show with Barbara Nice can be seen at the Newhampton Arts Centre on Friday 14 and Saturday 25 February.
BLACK COUNTRY BUFFET
BLACK COUNTRY BUFFET
After a good Black Country buffet (included in the ticket price) we enjoyed a selection of Madge Gilbey’s dialect poetry. Her quirky take on life via her thoughts on such subjects as man boobs, valentines and a friend's funeral got the audience back from their faggots and grey paes chuckling and ready for the remainder of the evening.
Brendan Hawthorne, a Wednesbury poet, is well known for his anecdotal tales and poems of growing up in the black Country. From tin baths to tank tops his mother knitted and faggots to a teenage permanent wave via his Grandfather’s smoking habits, we lapped it up and remembered similar objects and situations. After a brief appearance by his ventriloquists dummy (complete with knitted tank top)we were given a cautionary poem about spicing up your love life at a certain age and Brendan’s fictional adventures with his sotnev, the Sandwell satnav. Another writer in the forefront of the movement to preserve the Black Country dialect; perhaps we should have a Black Country laureate.
We finished up rolling in the aisles to Emma Rollason’s tribute to the black Country comedienne, the late Dolly Allen. I never saw Dolly Allen, but I have seen Emma’s tribute before this and it gets better and better, her way of portraying the gossipy older ‘ooman is superb. If anything, I felt the time allocated to her was a little short, I know my table companions could have sat through more.
All in all a good first venture into this area
for the team at Café Metro. 18-01-12
Mouth & Music
Boars head Gallery,
Worcester St, Kidderminster
I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it
due to my very heavy workload at the moment and my husband having to get
up very early today to travel to London on business, but I managed to
get away from my office at 6. 45pm to make the trip there along with my
husband and good friend/performance poet Suz Winspear.
I got to see the first part of Spoz’s set and he performed “Disco Dad”, and his take on Sherlock Holmes where he gets “hound of the baskerville” to rhyme with “pound and a flask of pills” and get it to make sense, according to the review of this poem that was in The Birmingham Post.
But the best poem of all for me has to be the one he wrote about his Mum and Dad who came to live in the UK from Italy. By coincidence my Dad also came over from Italy to live with his sister and her husband who were already settled here when he was ten years old as the opportunities for education and work were far better than in the little tiny village of Mongrassano in the late 1950s.
Every single word and syllable of that poem rings so true with me and I can almost hear my Dad saying the same things to me that Spoz said that his mother said to him in this poem – “you geta a gooda job, and geta gooda pay, and save all the money for a rainy day. Work with your brain, put away that guitar” or in my case, put away that pen and paper and stop writing – as if THAT was going to happen (sorry Dad!
It doesn’t matter how many times I hear Spoz deliver that poem, it tugs on my heartstrings every time and last night I actually had a tear or two in my eye. It was a good job that my husband was there to give me a hug on the way out!
I shall make this a regular event in my poetry and writing calendar. Heather Wastie and Sarah Tamar are on to a winner with this and I wish them every success and I hope the night goes from strength to strength.
A new dedicated Facebook page has been set up and
you can access it by going to
www. facebook. com/mouthandmusic. 10-01-12.
Newhampton Inn, Riches
I have been trying to get to this spoken word group for a long time and I was not disappointed. The meetings take place in the upstairs assembly room at the Newhampton Inn, giving access to bar facilities etc. without the problem of interference from other customers, which can be a problem when meeting in pubs. Unfortunately, there is no disabled access.
The group was quite small which, as we were meeting on a Bank Holiday Monday evening, was to be expected. It is very informal and those who wish to read or tell stories can indicate as they arrive, or during the evening, time permitting, real open mic without the mic.
SWAN specialises in spoken word of any kind; on this occasion, it was mainly storytelling with folk stories and legends from around the world being told enthusiastically by people who obviously enjoyed what they were doing. We had tales from Afghanistan, the Isle of Man, India, the Black Country, the English/Welsh border and more. There was one poet, a young man trying out some of his poems for the first time, who was made very welcome.
Eileen Ward Birch
Parole Parlate, Worcester
I’ve been to a fair few Parole Parlate spoken word evenings on the first Thursday of the month at the Little Venice in Worcester. They’ve always been good but I don’t think I’ve laughed or enjoyed myself so much this year. Okay, so this year’s still very young, but not since last year’s Worcestershire Literary Festival in June.
This cracking start to the new year, thanks to the Worcestershire literary festival team and Bohdan Piasecki at Apple and Snakes, featured the Decadent Divas as guest act.
They were decadent, divatastic and definitely not to be missed. This hilarious and moving celebration of womanhood by Charlie Jordan, Maggie Doyle, Lorna Meehan and Laura Yates covers the female viewpoints of four decades from women in their 20s through to their fifties, with new poetry included for 2012. From Beckham in bondage, through student insecurities, to yoga, meditation, Neanderthal males and yes, maybe just a little bit of sex (!), both the material and their performance made for an entertaining show.
And, warming the audience up, was a typically wonderful variety of short acts. Worcestershire’s Owen Fleet opened the night (to a packed house) with his comic observations of the cad and a hilarious bucket list inspired by all those wonderful new year’s resolutions so many of us make.
David Calcutt shared a series of his poems, all of which contained some beautiful, haunting, and thought-provoking images and lines. It was great to hear him perform both A Conjuring of the White Owl, which was in the first issue of the Worcestershire Literary Festival Be: magazine and also his curlew poem included in the second issue, due out at the end of February.
Suz Winspear’s mesmerising performance, complete with a new costume created for Christmas, featured a range of pieces written for this time of year, the ‘inertia/hangover/somnolent’ weeks. Her ‘dodgy scrotes’ poem about yuletide shoplifters – complete with ‘a clockwork stunt nun which can provide years of fun’ – was one of a number of highlights of the evening.
Kidderminster poet Bobby Parker was also on characteristically fine form with his unflinching poems touching on estate life, drugs… in his own very unique and humorous style. These included a number of poems currently up on the Stride magazine website.
Shabz Ahmed travelled from Birmingham to give the audience his three poems on third world hunger, the UK riots and a memorised piece honouring his mother, while Polly Robinson rounded off the evening with a fantastic audience-participation poem: Let’s Do It, Let’s Write a Blog, featuring a number of regular Parole Parlate and Worcestershire Literary Festival performers.
Too much chatting (oops, me never!) meant I missed the first two poets of the second half, to my loss.
But Nick Munro-Taylor’s prose piece did what many short stories fail to do when performed aloud by managing not only to keep but maintain the audience’s attention, thanks both to its humour and the fantastic character voices within it.
Next up was popular poet Ruth Stacey with three poems, including her Be: magazine website Christmas Norway Spruce. Thanks to repeated audience requests, she also treated us to her memorable and funny Bear poem.
Last, but by no means least, Tony Judge brought us more puntastic fun and delight with his characterful and witty take on life in Little Hope, complete with incidents, exploits and word play (not to mention baking road kill!) which had the audience in fits of laughter.
All in all, a great evening! 05-01-12
Sarah is an award-winning poet and fiction writer. An Oxford modern languages graduate and prize-winning former journalist, she has seen her work widely published in anthologies and literary journals, as well as online. Her first full-length poetry collection Into the Yell was published by Circaidy Gregory Press in July 2010 and won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards 2011. She was shortlisted for Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2011/2012 and also has a poem selected for the Polesworth Poets’ Trail in Warwickshire.
Smoke & Mirrors
The vibrancy of poetry events around the Midlands is well documented in Behind the Arras, but nowhere does the poetic muse flourish more healthily than at Smoke and Mirrors in Malvern.
Organised by Dee Davidson and Caitlin Belgard. This year has seen performances by John Cooper Clarke, Attila the Stockbroker and Ian McMillan, as well a cornucopia of local talent, all of whom are included in the Smoke and Mirrors book, which was launched on the evening.
The book itself was compiled, and a companion audio recorded, and produced in under a month – a remarkable achievement. But then remarkable achievements seem routine for a couple who led the successful campaign to retain the Malvern Youth Centre, the only community hall in the town, from closure and redevelopment.
Formats can make or break poetry events. Yet Dee and Caitlin like to live dangerously. The performances were to showcase contributions to the book, with the opportunity for performers to add a few others. But instead of fixing a running order, a rolling ballot was in place to determine the order of performance – it worked brilliantly, primarily due to the calibre of poet and material on show, adding an uncertain artistic edge to proceedings.
First out of the hat were the Very Grimm Bros, vehicle for Adrian Mealing accompanied by his “brother” on acoustic guitar. His urbane and distinguished demeanour was the perfect foil for his raw subject matter which took in Police violence, and a tribute to Gill Scott Heron.
WITTY, SHARP AND FRESH
Nor was Trish Marsh prepared to settle for the routine or mundane. She introduced us to the concept of GITS- great issues of our time, accompanied by placards to prompt audience response. Witty, sharp and fresh, she bounded through the perils of excess carbon emissions and the need for recycling, taking in Bin Laden on the way.
Writing simple, effective poetry is far more difficult than it at first appears. Whenever you hear something which makes you think “I wish I had written that” it is an implicit endorsement. That was my reaction to Ali Oxterby’s, The Hug, a joyful, and wry exploration of the pleasures, and perils, of hugging. Previously, I had met Brenda Read- Brown, and seen her perform during the day in a library. In the environment of a relaxed, licensed, evening she was unrecognisable, with two tour-de force pieces, one inspired by her work with prisoners. Dan Duke is a very strong comic performance poet. He fuses a Rowan Atkinesque absurd stage demeanour with a keen intellectual edge neatly balancing fine observation with base belly laughs. Up a GUM Tree about a visit to a sexually transmitted diseases clinic (non-auto biographical of course) epitomised this approach with male members of the audience looking anxiously around worried that they had laughed a little too readily at some of the jokes!
The likes of Heather Wastie, Ray Miller, Ted Underwood, Tim Cranmore, and Catherine Crosswell effortlessly vindicated their selection for publication, with seventeen year old Laura Dedicoat, current Young Worcestershire Poet Laureate, a shining example of emerging poetic talent. The evening closed with a contribution from myself, a batte-of – the-sexes pentalogy duet with the cutting, but adorable, Amy Rainbow, and a delightfully lewd and bawdy contribution from Bill Thomas about eating spare ribs.
Every event has its own characteristics. Smoke and
Mirrors trick is to be clever, yet unpretentious, diverse but with a
strong poetic core, and performance based whilst never compromising on
the stand alone quality of writing, a summary true of the evening, the
running event, and the book, which is available, including audio disc
for £10 from
www. versatilearts. co. uk 17-12-11
Hit the Ode
End of Year Special
The Victoria Pub, Birmingham
The Victoria Pub, Birmingham
Twice in less than a month I have been to poetry events celebrating their first anniversary; the first was Parole Parlate which I have already written about, and the second was Hit The Ode, The Victoria, Birmingham.
All performing poets and writers know that the audience can make or break their performance but audiences can be manipulated. In the good old days of variety or chat shows, the audience was “warmed up” thus making them more eager to see the performers.
A lesser known comedian or more inexperienced performer was commissioned as the “warm up”, and it was their job to whip the audience (not literally) into a frenzy of excitement – or as near as they could get. One or two of you may have heard of Peter Kay ! He started life as the warm up for Sir Michael Parkinson. (Peter compered the re-named Royal Command Performance this month and, I believe, has just topped sales of ten million with his latest DVD – not bad for a one-time warm up man!)
Fortunately, this specific art form has not become extinct and is alive and kicking at Hit the Ode in the form of the MC, Bohdan Piasecki. He is the genial host of the evening who manages to elicit the best of responses through the oddest of requests. Degrees of clapping (or of booing – though very rarely put into effect) and peaks and troughs of laughter carefully orchestrated under the skillful raising and lowering of his hand. Ludicrous it may sound, but it works. Bohdan has the audience in the palm of his hand and then passes them over to the acts for the evening, almost a show in itself.
November’s session started with Shabz Ahmed who had a thought provoking piece about poverty in the twenty first century, which was followed by a poem about the riots earlier this year. Shabz is a great supporter of the Birmingham poetry scene and it was good to hear some of his work. Emma Whelan shared some of her concerns and views on mental health issues with her first poem asking the question “Who isn’t sick in the world? I’m just at another level. ”
Her second piece, “Positive Thinking” was an admitted rant on how mental illness is perceived. Powerful messages sensitively delivered. Sean Colletti, Irish name but an American accent took a nostalgic look at Halloween with his poem “My Father” where his father, through the decoration of an oak tree at Halloween, provided “a snow globe of memories for his son. ” Sean was followed by another open mic performer, Leeanne Stoddart with her “Hero” poem. In truth, this was dedicated to a female – supermomma, amazing daughter, mother, student, friend. In fact, a Shero. Unusual twist on a common theme. The first half open mic-ers finished with Shortman, a very individualistic performer who intrigued the audience with his particular style of delivery.
The highlight of the evening for me personally, was the first guest performer – Matt Harvey. I had not been fortunate enough to see him before and was eagerly awaiting his set; I was not disappointed. Matt hails from Totnes and was also Poet in Residence at Wimbledon, or to give him the official title, the first official Wimbledon Championships Poet..
He opened with “Works Perks”, a logical view at what he perceived was “owed” to him from his employers for the amount of time and diligence afforded to his employment but not totally covered by wages. A charming and witty piece containing “you take the best years of my life …… [so, I take] a laminator for my wife”.
You can’t fault the logic! “Oh Potato” was commissioned by the Waste and Resources Action Project for its Love Food Hate Waste Campaign and beautifully illustrated the unsung potential of, well, yes, the potato. More pieces flowed effortlessly from this charismatic writer with clever rhyming schemes and witty observations.
His IT poem was musical poetry and a Wimbledon Gig Poem “Thwock” with made up words (lookity, muttery), official commentary and perfectly timed pauses had the audience re-living a Wimbledon final. If you fancy hearing witty language, clever vocabulary, and enjoyable poetry enjoyably delivered, look no further than Matt Harvey.
SHORT LOVE POEM
The second half opened with three more open mic-ers; Elizabeth Charis who under went a name change with explanations in her first piece, and ended with a very short love poem. Gift Nyoni followed with her profound observations of specific people lost within society “we of no name”, and not being accepted as natives yet are the backbone of the economy; “we are the people you refuse to see”. Rehema was the last of the open mic performers, a very pleasant young lady with a sad love poem – “I am the books you won’t read” being one evocative line.
First guest poet of the second half was Irishwoman Catherine Brogan, the international element of the evening – who had flown in from Berlin. Having explained the precarious nature of trying to exist when earning a living as a poet, her opening poem portrayed Jesus as the original gang leader, disciples being slang for gang, certainly a different take on bible stories. A piece on terrorism followed asking the question why does the present generation keep on killing when they could just chill or go fishing. Her final piece, a mini history lesson involving Northern Ireland, was both clever and informative and she received a very good reception from the audience.
The final act of the night, Joe Coglan, had appeared twice at Hit the Ode as an open mic performer and tonight was elevated to guest. A youth worker from Derby, his pieces reflected the work in which he is involved and the part Society plays but for me his poem “Mary’s Secret” about an eight year old girl with an “indestructible smile” took us to places where perhaps we would rather not go. Sometimes, however, we need to be reminded that life is not always rosy. Bullying and child abuse exist and Joe pulled no punches with his poem.
So, Hit the Ode drew to a close and finished its first year. The audience was not as large as usual – probably something to do with late night shopping and the German Christmas Market – but the evening lost none of its enthusiasm for the acts on stage and a good time was had by all. May I wish all spoken word supporters, writers and performers a very Happy Christmas/ Winter Festival or whatever is deemed politically correct, and may Hit the Ode and other events blossom even more in 2012.
John Edgar – Breton Tales After Dark
Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton
Twelve months ago, I persuaded my reluctant husband to brave a wintry evening with me to see John Edgar tell his Tales of The Ankou at the Arena Theatre, this year, he insisted we go to the follow up event.
The Arena might have been built for John Edgar, large enough to accommodate a good sized audience, but not too large. It gives him just the right size of auditorium for his voice to reach everybody without the need for amplification, and brings audience members close enough for him to interact with individuals, even ad-libbing a few short good natured exchanges, as he prowls the stage.
We listened enthralled, as John began by telling us macabre tales of people who had encountered Les Lavandeires, washerwomen of the night who prepare shrouds for those about to die. The story of the spectacularly monickered Iouennic Bolloc'h in the cathedral on All Hallows’ Eve and the couple who saved his parents from spending eternity as trees by giving food to the poor held our attention up to the interval.
When the macabre spell cast by John was broken by humour, we, having been drawn into a story, sometimes laughed nervously, sometimes chuckled and sometimes laughed aloud. Moreover, this coupling of macabre and mirth continued into the second half, when we heard the tale of generous Laou ar Braz and his encounter with The Ankou after he had slaughtered his largest pig and shared the proceeds with his neighbours. The Ankou and a handsome sea captain also made appearances in the closing tales. So many stories told, so many, we hope, still to tell.
For this one evening, John was ably supported by Billy Spakemon and Lozz who opened each half of the show with a variety of Black Country songs, including Alley Pally Sally and Oldbury mon. They will be appearing at Bilston Voices in January.
On my way out, I overheard two women discussing
their night out. The verdict – “mind blowing”. It must have
been their first time, but I tend to agree. 02-12-11.
Eileen Ward –Birch
THIS was Behind the Arras’s ridiculously belated first visit to The Drum, which is dedicated to developing and promoting contemporary art and culture of British African, Asian and Caribbean communities.
Its ambitions are bold, as it strives to become a centre of national and international renown, yet still stay firmly rooted within its local community, leading and facilitating the development, celebration, performance and exhibition of the diversity of Black arts and cultures for the benefit of all.
It is a place where contemporary Black arts flourish and are enjoyed, nurturing and broadening the appreciation of these arts for audiences and participants from the whole community – Black and White.
It aims to support the development of contemporary Black artistic practice and involve people from every section of the community in cultural activities that educate, inform, entertain, challenge and delight them. When the evening drew to a close I think that Word Up met those objectives.
Led by the charismatic Keisha C and Cassandra, the evening majored with black artists, though not exclusively, who were predominantly young, and combined straight poetry, drama, beat box, hip hop, and some songs sung to backing tracks.
Played on a modest (but higher than you might expect) stage, there is a good PA system which is needed in the cavernous surroundings of the foyer and licensed cafe area.
Jon Morley is heavily involved in the Drum and he joined Wole Soyinka to perform extracts from Death and the Kings Horseman. The Drum’s new in-house production is a youth music theatre adaptation of this classic of modern African theatre, set in Nigeria during World War II.
“The King has died, and tonight a sacrificial victim must escort him to the spirit world. As Chief Elesin Oba dances through the market, pursued by an entourage of adoring women, he promises to honour the ancient Yoruba custom of ritual suicide and accompany his ruler on the final journey. Will Elesin do his duty and prevent the world from tumbling into catastrophe? Or will meddling colonial officials precipitate the downfall of his race?”
It was a strong reading, powerfully brought to life by Jon and Wole, the full performances take place on Dec 8th/9th/10th at the Drum.
The other star turn was Mstr Morrison, whose poetic career continues to flourish. Graveyard Shift is a live staple of his, telling the down-market, downbeat, tale of Jasmine and her life in a brothel. A young man, he speaks with the wisdom, and sometimes world-weariness, of someone far older, and with a humanity that always enthralls.
His latest poem, provisionally titled Real Life Heroes, represented another step in his writing evolution as he juxtaposed popular heroes, the sporting ones of whom will come to the fore next year during the Olympics and European Football Championships, with the everyday, unsung heroes of day to day life.
Bambino’s Freestyle Beatbox, Anita’s singing and Kanski’s rap impressed, as did the spoken word offerings of Jade Richards, Shabz Ahmed and Christian. The “Shake the Dust” Youth Poetry Slam is taking place at the Drum on Tuesday 6th December. 01-12-11
Metro Cafe, Bilston
THERE is no doubt that a good laugh creates a pleasant atmosphere and at Bilston Voices regulars like a ‘gudloff’, which is probably why there is usually such a good atmosphere. The latest line up of poets and storytellers gathered together by our regular lively MC, Emma Purshouse, more than lived up to the Café Metro’s reputation.
Ron Davies started the proceedings by telling us about his childhood visits to the cinema and being a child in wartime. We tittered along as he related tales of the goings on in the back row and how lads his age would pretend to be the latest cinema hero, in his case Charles Boyer, complete with home dyed beret and an attempt at a French accent to impress the local girls.
After Ron, wegiggled along with Jill Tromans as she recited one of her Christmas poems and told us about catching up with an old boyfriend via Friends Reunited and we continued to chuckle through a short story. The story, about a man who was pleased about his wife leaving him, drew us all in, waiting for the punch line, which came just right – as she roused him out of his dream.
Last on before the break and a last minute stand in, Gary Longden had us chuckling with his poems. We had one called Café Blend, which was nothing like Café Metro. This was followed by a piece about pre-decimal coins and another about Aston Hall by candlelight.
We also heard about Gary’s chagrin at reading that some of his favourite words were to be removed from the dictionary due to lack of usage.
After the interval, Brendan Hawthorne, who really should be crowned Wednesbury Poet Laureate, had us laughing to his poems about a childhood tank top knitted by his mother, having a perm as a teenager and going to a party.
Gary Longden stood in as a living ventriloquists dummy for Brendan’s evergreen, ever funny, poem about an entertainer about to go into retirement. He finished with his Sot Nev, the Sandwell version of Satnav. All in a fine Wednesbury accent. We chuckled on.
Lastly, the storyteller, John Edgar was in fine form adding his own unique twist to his Breton folk tales, a little taste of his show scheduled for the Arena Theatre a few days later. This might seem a dark subject to tackle after all that laughter, but John soon had us guffawing as he added his own twist to story after story of life after dark in Brittany when death walks the land and only the brave dare confront him.
It’s not just the words that make John funny, it’s the all action performance, as he goes through a series of gestures to match each story. Anybody who hasn’t seen John Edgar has missed a treat.
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