It was great to welcome Bethany Pope to the Keep this week, her first visit since we moved into this friendly venue in the centre of Guildford. Bethany has read with The 1000 Monkeys once a year since we began our poetry nights, back in 2012, and she never fails to amaze with her imaginative and dynamic delivery of masterful poems whose themes centre on the traumatic times she lived through as a young teenager in the US.
Bethany’s eighth collection of poems, Silage (she also has a novel to her name, called Masque) is perhaps her most poignant yet.
The miracle of the book is that the poems move easily between the utter brutality of forced labour on the orphanage farm and the physical details of the rape by a girl (since gaoled for other crimes, we’re told) to moments of joy in small daily successes. The fourteen-year-old Bethany learns tricks to outwit the controlling institution for example, to pick the window locks, learned from a James Bond book), enjoys ‘real fights, with blood!’ with Amanda, her friend, and breaks ‘buck-naked’ into the library after her clothes are taken away and she’s been locked in her room.
The love of life in this book saves it triumphantly from any accusations of self-pity or mawkishness. She celebrates the hard and dirty labour of the farm,:
… I loved the sour, fermented scent of
half-decayed cedar. I loved the fragrance
of silage; dung was an excellent base-
note for sweet Timothy hay. …
And under the suffering, her personality persisted in finding the relief she needed, wherever she might find it: the comics; the library books, and singing hymns when the endorphins of exhaustion allowed her a rush of irrational joy.
All the richness of Bethany’s unique sensitivity to all her experiences flows through the poems in Silage and on Monday it flowed on her reading into our poetry night. No wonder Nicholas Lezard headed his review of Silage in the Guardian ‘Poetry as Salvation.’ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/16/silage-bethany-w-pope-review-poetry-as-salvation
Karen Izod brought the good news that she has poems in two recently published anthologies: one on the Curlew, an endangered bird these days, and others in a book celebrating Stanley Spencer’s centenary this year.
Eddie Chauncy (right) had been thinking about Veins, about the man who trudges usefully through life, and he wanted to know Will you Show me Where to go? when everything familiar has gone.
Kyle McHale (below) opted to read poems by Bukowski. I hadn’t realised that Bukowsky wrote such cheerful pessimism, and I enjoyed The Laughing Heart and Ruin very much:
You can’t beat death
but you can beat death in life
Alex Twyman had poems by Rilke (The Panther) and two poems by Joe Bolton from the American South.
Jeremy Loynes read his Surrey poems, including an elegy constructed of lines from the Church of England Book of Common Prayer and Hymns Ancient and Modern. Here is his lyrical poem on Cranleigh.
Richard Hawtree delivered a poem by Francis Ledwidge, the Irish poet who died at Passchendaele in 1917, and followed it with his own poem to Ledwidge. Here is Richard reading those, and his poem to a man aged 101 who recently jumped, sky-diving, from a plane. An interesting juxtaposition of a young man dying before his time in war and an ancient who’s apparently indestructible, I thought.
And finally, Sian plucked up courage and read one of her poems. We're looking forward to hearing more from Sian.