Published by Leafe press, 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 Blade Runner to my Mother who has Alzheimer’s made me cry on reading via the current issue of LeftLion, and achieved much the same result today. 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 published by Five Leaves, 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.
Words from the Abbey
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 unlike a tin of Ronseal, this book does exactly what it promises on its cover.
Love of Landscape (or Outskirts and Outposts)
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 (via digital recording due to illness), Chris Jones and Mark Goodwin with a projected backdrop of stunning photographs from Nikki Clayton. Neither urban nor pastoral, theirs are in-between 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.
Radically Good Poetry
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 out-loud again. He read, amongst several, the eponymous poem from his collection, Desperanto, a witty villanelle: ‘Poetry? It’s written everywhere, the universal language 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.
The Festival of Words opened on 9 February at Newstead Abbey. For more events, please see the Nottwords website