Accounts of Recent Evenings
There are some quaint places where you will be served a cream tea in East Anglia, but this is a different land from the green meadows, rolling hills and winding lanes of the west country we fondly imagine. No, this is a terrain of marsh, bog and drain, tracts of windblown land, a place where as Kevin himself says in Dusk, Burnham-Overy-Staithe one can ‘only guess where marsh/finishes and sky begins’. Yet it is not only a distinctive landscape and shoreline but also a place where ‘Anything could happen’ as the writer peoples his work with stories and legends and remarkable characters, somehow timeless, who seem to grow from their environment. This is the stuff of Kevin Crossley-Holland’s poetry. His most recent publication, the delightfully named, The Mountains of Norfolk, brings together some new poems and a selection from his previously published work. And what a handsome little book Enitharmon have made of it through the use of a cover based on an atmospheric watercolour by Norman Ackroyd with whom Kevin collaborated on the evocative and beautifully produced work, Moored Man.
It was a pleasure to listen to this most fastidious of readers depicting the dramas unfolding below what he called ‘the great theatre of the skies.’ Brooding lands, and shorelines, which seem to be ever shifting, are sketched in with the deftness we associate with the authentic way of looking of a water colourist. There is mystery too. Just how did those two bodies come to be face up in the pool? Here are strong characters, like the beachcomber, his face ‘chafed and chapped like driftwood’ described in language as tough as sinewy as the land that produced and sustains them. All is well summarised in the fine poem The Grain of Things where the poet undertakes a lucid analysis of the language that characterises his work, accurately celebrating,
…..the gruff The honest stumble and crux- The obstinate knot in the grain of things.
After the interval, our members once again rose to the occasion, providing a wealth of readings, including Victorian fantasies, irreverent and boisterous retellings of stories from mythology, fondly recalled family anecdotes and major current happenings on the world’s stage. So, no cream teas, but haunting landscapes, intriguing stories, mysteries, and memorable characters; ample to savour.
Moored Man: Enitharmon: 2006: £25.00
The Mountains of Norfolk: Enitharmon: 2011: £10.99
For readers unfamiliar with Kevin’s work there is a useful introduction to his poetry on a websiteBack to Top
Had anyone else assumed ‘Martyn Crucefix’ must be a nom de plume? Presumably not the members who had heard Martyn on his previous visit to TPS (2005). In mitigation I’d point out that Martyn’s name has been on my radar since undergraduate days, but really came into focus with the publication of his translations of Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Anyhow, Martyn’s first poem set me straight by taking us into the world of his Hugenot clockmaking ancestors.
His generous reading of work was mainly drawn from his latest book, Hurt (Enitharmon, 2010 and proper value at 114 pages of new work). Whether the subject is aging parents (Calling in the Dark) his own youth (Riders on the Storm) or a broader project of time and our place in it (Wilderness) the poems emerge naturally from a great care in imaginative observation. Water-lily contains the lines ‘waiting….at the cross hairs of words and things’ which seems to me no bad summary of the overall thrust of the poems. Presumably Martyn partly shares that view as the first section of the new book is titled ‘cross hairs’. The highlight from earlier work was a celebratory elegy for Jeremy Round, which recovered a connection, as several members had known Jeremy’s father, a local headmaster.
That brings me to Rilke, about which I can say nothing except that if you do not have Martyn’s translations of the Duino Elegies then buy it and read it – then read it again (read the German too – aloud! – always gets me a bit of space on the train – and the agony of the first elegy was surely inspired by First Capital Connect).
In the second half of the evening members gave a lively set of poems related to the theme of shopping. Martyn then rounded off the evening with some new work. I hope the audience left in no doubt that here was a poet of real substance and generosity. I will be first in the queue for his forthcoming translations of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus.Back to Top
This was a very relaxing and highly enjoyable evening. During the course of her reading, Katrina spoke about the different phases of her career and of the events that that had helped to shape it. It was characteristic that for a time she went to Spain to open herself to experience and give herself the space to write poetry. Underlying all her poems is a readiness to record the stuff of ordinary life, as she interprets it, with freshness and vitality. Not afraid to make use of unusual comparisons and daring figurative language, she records encounters, often very sensuously, particularly the weather, the spirit of place and the world of nature. In particular, she captures the character of plants with great fidelity, for instance, the petals of an iris which ‘tease to a purple stamen’, gladioli that ‘spear’ the light and the ‘tired green’ of a cactus, ‘quilted like a duvet’. But it is probably in the humorous frankness of the autobiographical poems describing brushes with sexuality in Tunnel of Love and Lunch at the Elephant and Castle that her work makes its greatest impact. Nonetheless, all the poems had a fetching honesty and integrity without a cliche hovering anywhere near. The audience seemed especially attracted by the poems written as a result of a spell as a writer-in-residence at the Howarth parsonage. These poems, often taking as their theme ‘the unsung’ objects of the Brontes’ daily lives, provide original and vivid recreations of that atmospheric location. The clarity of Katrina’s language was well matched by her very clear spoken voice which did full justice to the poems through the fine quality of a measured reading. In the second half of the evening members once again rose to a challenge set by our visitor; this time producing a great variety of excellent poems on the theme of portraiture.
Publications: The Girl with the Cactus Handshake [Templar Books] 2009; Lunch at the Elephant and Castle [pamphlet]; Charlotte Bronte’s Corset [pamphlet]Back to Top
The distinctive titles of Robert Seatter’s two published volumes, Travelling to the Fish Orchards and On the Beach with Chet Baker certainly intrigue and their contents soon yield up a wealth of absorbing poems. Robert’s opening salvo, I Come From with its well chosen miscellany of early contrasting memories was the perfect beginning to what proved to be a very well constructed reading. Invoking words from Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair - a story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead , Robert recognises that his work can be seen as a selection of sharply observed and well captured moments which have proved to be significant in his life. Often the context is almost mundane – making toast or lemon curd – and yet each situation is invested with subtle layers of meaning that enrich the moment. A piece of toast may be only carbon but it is also a little taste of warmth/crunched against the night. And it is through the selection of such telling details as the dark crumbs resting on your lips that the moment becomes so much more than scant significance and shows how we can become lost in the seemingly ordinary or familiar and forget sometimes to be amazed .
In the final section of On the Beach with Chet Baker the work takes on a more sombre tone as a series of moving poems on the theme of a garden are invested with complex memories of parents and times past.
The format of the second half of the evening once again proved to be very successful as members rose to the challenge to read work which in some way reflected the theme of colour. This followed a reading by Robert of Learning Happiness , a fine poem which you can also hear him reading on the internet. The clarity and expressiveness of Robert’s reading helped to ensure a truly outstanding evening.
Travelling to the Fish Orchards [Seren, 2002]
On the Beach with Chet Baker [Seren, 2006]
Writing King Kong [Seren, to be published in June 2011]
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TPS hosted a particularly enjoyable evening with our friends from Luton Irish Forum. We hope these photos, kindly provided by Colin Dean, may help you to recall the evening with pleasure.
The evening was led by William Greig, who says "Many thanks to all who read or listened to the poems listed below; there were 23 of us so we had an interesting and varied evening. It was particularly good to hear so many poems that members had written themselves. Please do contact me if you have any queries on ’phone 01582 419 346"
|Mary Peart||From Romeo and Juliet||William Shakespeare|
|Martin Cook||Touch||Martin Cook|
|Frank Batt||My bit for international relations||Frank Batt|
|Susan Chappell||He wishes for the cloths of heaven||W.B.Yeats|
|Dick Hancock||Aisle 31||Dick Hancock|
|Yosef Ben-Miriam||Ravished||Yosef Ben-Miriam|
|Mary Peart||Sonnet 129||William Shakespeare|
|Jean Janes||Valentine||Carol Ann Duffy|
|Jean Janes||As sweet||Wendy Cope|
|Dick Hancock||Love songs in old age||Philip Larkin|
|Mary Peart||Sonnet 97||William Shakespeare|
|Mary Peart||Loss||Wendy Cope|
|Raymond Garfoot||The way back||Raymond Garfoot|
|Frank Batt||Beverley||Frank Batt|
|Chris Georgiou||Ghosts||Chris Georgiou|
|Barry Cooper||Out of the blue||Barry Cooper|
|Martin Cook||The Wedding Gown||Martin Cook|
|Liz Rehberger||The last thing on my mind ( Song )||Tom Paxton|
|Rik Wilkinson||Pension rights and the butterfly of chaos||Rik Wilkinson|
|Veronica Gudgin||Separation||Veronica Gudgin|
|Rik Wilkinson||Watermark||Rik Wilkinson|
|Angela Cook||To his mother||George Barker|
|Barry Cooper||Frost at midnight||Samuel Taylor Coleridge|
|Chris Giorgiou||Love||Chris Giorgiou|
|Yosef Ben-Miriam||No-one owns a sparrow||Yosef Ben-Miriam|
|Sue Blain||Two look at two||Robert Frost|
|Sue Blain||Encountering an octopus||Sue Blain|
|Susan Browne||I wish I had a Satnav||Cowley|
|Edna Davis||King to me, Nigel||Pam Ayres|
|George Knight||George Knight|
|Raymond Garfoot||Quantum cosmological lover||Raymond Garfoot|
|Dick Hancock||A bird’s eye view of St. Valentine’s Day||Dick Hancock|
An evening led by Ann and Brian Biddle in which members were encouraged to read their favourite poems
|R L Stevenson||Bed in Summer||Veronica Gudgin|
|W H Davies||Leisure||Susan Browne|
|Thomas Hood||I Remember, I Remember||Edna Davis|
|Alan Harris||Daffodil Man||Barry Cooper|
|Harry Graham||The Poet’s Life||William Greig|
|Dylan Thomas||And Death Shall Have No Dominion||Martin Cook|
|Louis MacNeice||Leaving Barra||Angela Cook|
|Naomi Shihab Nye||Hidden||Zakia Carpenter|
|Nikki Giovani||Ego Trippin’|
|Walt Whitman||from Leaves of Grass||Tre Hall|
|Dante G Rossetti||from The House of Life 19||Sue Blain|
|Maya Angelou||Phenomenal Woman||Mary Peart|
|Edward Thomas||As the Team’s Head-brass||Dick Hancock|
|Christy Brown||For My Mother||Yosef Ben Miriam|
|Emily Bronte||No Coward Soul is Mine||Raymond Garfoot|
|Gerard Manley Hopkins||Binsey Poplars||Ann Biddle|
|Walter de la Mare||Nod|
|Alfred Lord Tennyson||The Splendour Falls||Brian Biddle|
|W B Yeats||The Cloths of Heaven|
|John Masefield||Sea Fever||Frank Batt|
Andrea was quickly into her stride when reading and talking about her poems, intriguingly interspersing a fluent presentation with many fresh and illuminating comments on the nature of poetry. Early on she invoked the spirit of Dylan Thomas, citing his telling comment that poems need to breathe, should not be too explicit but should provide space for the reader to ‘inhabit a poem’, a perceptive comment that many of us who try our hand at writing would do well to bear in mind! Further helpful comments on the nature of the writing process were to come as the presentation continued. Down to earth and vital, Andrea’s poems made a quick impact on the attentive listeners who clearly warmed to her outgoing personality and natural style of presentation. A significant number of poems were read from her own recent publication A Season of Small Insanities (Salt, 2009). Particularly effective were poems such as Room Service and Night Porter in which human behaviour is vividly caught from unconventional viewpoints. A prolific writer, Andrea has won a number of competitions and has had her work published in a wide range of magazines. The topics are eclectic and the poetry is always distinguished by strong turns of phrase and a sense of the immediate and physical. Two poems were written in response to the work of Goya and in Orosia Moreno Andrea gives full rein to her satirical bent as she vividly describes the swarming activities of the imaginary mice the unfortunate woman has been accused of creating.
There was no loss of momentum after the interval. Andrea had suggested as a theme the relationship between poetry and visual form and work from members came thick and fast in response to the work of artists such as Breughel, Chagall and Rothko, making for one of the most satisfactory and memorable evenings of our current season.Back to Top
Drawing on his experience of teaching, psychotherapy and poetry, Steve did not sell his audience short when he opened our new season . As was to be expected, the poetry, although frequently drawing its imagery from landscape and seascape, is very much that of the inner world. It has an affecting honesty and integrity about it as the writer seeks to chart his response to the world he encounters around him – the turbulent relationship with his young daughter, the realization of the impact that the passage of time is having on his own responses, and his attitudes to the moving predicament of his ageing parents. On occasions the poetry verged on the spiritual, such as the moment he found utter peace lying on the sea looking up at the sky before committing himself to the breakers on a surfing expedition in Pembrokeshire. Although the language of the poetry is simple and direct and the forms are uncomplicated, their intensity still required the unremitting attention of members who were again at their best in the respect they showed the work through the quality of their listening.
Steve astutely introduced the theme of ‘ageing’ for the second half of the programme and this brought a wealth of response ranging from some dark humour through to a beautiful love song from George Knight.
Steve also brought to our attention his beautifully crafted poetry booklets and cards as well as framed versions of his poems, an unusual addition which caught the attention of members at the interval.Back to Top
Chris, who is a leading member of Ware Poets and currently their Competition Secretary, gave us a varied and often witty slice of her repertoire.
It was a lively evening in which she first shared with us the provenance of the poems she had selected.
She began with My Muse in which she questioned whether a poetess is condemned to the female style muse of her male counterparts and talked of “crafting wooden words again” a poor description of her own output.
Fringe Benefit served as an introduction to the tetractys in which the 5 lines contain, in order, 1 then 2, 3, 4 and finally 5 syllables. Her example is, in fact, a double tetractys in which 5 further lines reflect the construction of the first five by working backwards form 5 syllables down to one and giving the whole poem a diamond shape.
Having taken Fantasy as a theme for the second half, Chris used this as a theme for many of her own contributions. Sammy a rocking horse with a “swishy tail” and Escape in which she and her fellow boarders “rootled about under bushes” clearly came from childhood. Several poems displayed a knowledge of Egyptian myths and legends. Domesticity was about the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet. I am not sure if it was only I who singled out the line “A cat has no apparent uses”. Hearing her own list of grave goods including a Habitat chair and a shower cap, I wondered what I would choose. In The Waiting Room she sees Anubis the jackal god of the dead.
But not all the tales were from foreign climes: Stranger was Robinson Crusoe’s very superior take on Man Friday and in Wicked this sympathetic grandmother and committed ex-infant-school head-teacher explored the tricks a mother might play on her own children “when they are sitting forlorn clutching bookbags”. This mention of the wicked witch was balanced by Transformed which considered the role of Fairy Godmother. Another leap of the imagination was Helmet, a wife’s heartfelt lament for her dead husband inspired by the Sutton Hoo helmet.
Our chairman in his thank-you mentioned her warmth of personality which shone out in Rambling On in which Chris compared our lives with those of our successors. There was a nice balance of pluses and minuses in which the technological confusions caused to the older generation was neatly balanced by the thought of a possible cure for cancer, but which also acknowledged that the future will probably mean new diseases as well as the eradication of some we suffer now. Then there was also The Paradise Gardener in which an angel(?) worked “to make a refuge for those who had lost their worlds”.
. Chris’s sense of humour was also to the fore in: Bluebell Wars, in which she and her sister vied for possession of a painting done by their mother; No Call For It, in which Boots in Penzance used the phrase “we’re moving away from it” about lavatory paper and Pitstop in which she mused on a lapdancing club which has appeared along the route of the A1. This last poem was one of several roundly greeted with applause by TPS members.
After the break TPS members responded to the theme of Fantasy with a wide range of poems of their own and other people’s. It was left to Chris to end the evening with The Shamam of Golzel about Emil Fradin who claimed to have discovered fragments of Roman pottery in a field near Vichy and her last poem Going Home sent us all off with much to mull over and maybe lots of ideas for our own next ventures.Back to Top
The point about George Szirtes is his poetic mobility. You are not allowed to sit comfortably on the edge of things and feel reassured. You, the listener are set firmly in the middle while George's poems orbit round you, sending words and lines from all angles. It is futile to think of an objection to anything he says as he has already thought of it and answers without the question being asked.
That is a rare ability. Poems from his childhood are anything but childish yet they shine with that authenticity that honesty that only a child can capture. He saw, heard, smelled, tasted and touched events that have never left him.
George is a judge who sums up thoroughly, leaving you, the listener to work and reach a verdict. Not that he demands unanimity: I venture to suggest that he would be disappointed if his words elicited no debate. He does not preach, he makes you aware.
I particularly liked his "Postcard" poems for the serious, even threatening, undertones they evoked and "How to make bombs" really did make me hear "boom, boom, boom".
He demonstrated an enviable perception of detail that most of us would miss. Within the bigger picture of scenes as diverse as allotments and architecture, the delicate minutiae introduced us to aspects that result from assured and intricate observation.
By the time we were invited into the Madhouse, I was eager to find a line or category that would include me. As Auden said: "who can bear to feel himself forgotten."
Cygnus was a good poem to finish on. In a way, it summed up what we had been asked to do: make shapes into images, give movement to photographs, make metaphors into memories.Back to Top