Our first evening of The 1000 Monkeys at The Keep – and with lovely Lisa Kelly as our first guest of the new season. We’d been looking forward to it for four weeks. Could we still call it a Poetry Open Mic? We were going to try to do without a microphone because the Castle Lounge, small and perfectly formed for our usual audience, is quiet enough. The mic was mothballed for the moment, though in the summer with windows open or air-con rumbling we might need it again.
Lisa Kelly gave a reading that confirmed all our expectations. An MA in creative writing from Lancaster University has honed her original talent to a very high standard, both on the page and orally. Her latest collection, Bloodhound, was published by Hearing Eye; she is on the editorial board of the excellent literary journal Magma, and is a regular poetry host and workshop leader at the Torriano.
Lisa’s readings included a wide range of topics and modes of writing: sometimes formal, as in the ‘abecedarian’ that she wrote ‘accidentally’; sometimes in free verse set out either traditionally or for reading between white gaps on the page; ‘found’ poems; and more avant-garde forms. I particularly enjoyed her experimental poem composed mostly of punctuation, with its refrain:
an aphid is a full-stop not an exclamation mark
in the winter.
Lisa Kelly succeeds in bringing poetic craft to bear on personal experience without allowing either to be weakened, either by sentimentality or by over-indulgence in form. She broke her clavicle recently, in a cycling accident. Her sequence about the event, Clavicle: snaps, was another highlight. It’s to be published in Ambit Magazine soon. These powerful poems built a picture exponentially as they took us to examine the traumatic incident in a variety of its aspects. One of our favourites among her poems is about her experience of postnatal depression when she was first a mother, written after T S Eliot.
Lisa’s present project is d/Deaf, mounted by Magma Magazine for its sixty-ninth issue, in collaboration with Ray Antrobus, who like her is partially deaf, The project is open now to submissions of poems related to deafness and to hearing in general. Go to http://www.disabilityartscymru.co.uk/whats-on/magma-poetry/ for more details.
Dónall, hosting the night, was in subdued mood, knowing that his father was desperately ill in hospital and he would be returning to Ireland the following morning. He read two very moving poems in honour of his beloved Da.
In the Open Mic (minus the mic, so we’ll call it Readers from the Floor) fourteen readers kept up the usual high standard. We were very glad to see Geoff and Lorri Pimlott back from their winter home in Thailand, not only because their arrival is the first sign of Spring (forget swallows!) but because they brought new poems. Geoff unveiled more of his ‘collages’, brought back from the workshop in Cheng Mai., and in Playtime told of traumatised refugee children.
Lorri’s poems told of the environmental and social effects of the building of Bangkok Airport and mourned a lost friend.
We also welcomed a new 1000 Monkey reader, Becky Bird. Her poems about a passionate yearning, and ‘I Owe You’, which expressed a sense of guilt towards her partner because she can’t give birth (‘like an empty Coke machine’), and her poetic exposition of her situation as a transgender woman, moved everyone.
Ray Pool had a recipe from ’celebrity chefs in ivory towers’), a stick of rock with poetry written right through it (in ‘shinglish’ so probably from the south coast) and a very fey am-dram producer. We love Ray’s characters: I think this was a new one.
Richard Hawtree was in classical mood (reading the Keep’s cushions embroidered with mottoes may have set him off!). His cross-fertilization of a classic Pastorale with jargon from the internet raised smiles:
come live with me in hi-res passion …
… the trout that knows your codes
but never locks you out).
With Richard we enjoyed Independence in a Cork garden. Most of all, I loved Lethe, which told of his grandmother in Alexandria in 1928, when Cavafy was there and ‘Europe danced in Alexandria.’
Kyle McHale must have been living in Britain long enough now to have adopted our obsession with weather forecasts; his first poem explained their importance to him as a means of feeling connected to his family by a day’s parallel meteorological readings in Surrey and in his homeland. He meditated on Autumn and decay, and told the story of the Bear-Strayer. his friend who has escaped the burdens of ‘civilization’ (‘heavy pockets full of phones, keys, money’) to disappear into the Appalachian mountains.
Samantha Rae told a story of temptation and apples, and accepted that looking in the mirror and seeing one's mother is inevitable.
Michael Cutchey had a clutch of gothic words for us, which unfortunately escaped the lens of our video camera - but we'll catch you on a clip next time, Michael.
Dan Smith read poems celebrating his continued recovery from alcohol addiction, on the fifth anniversary of his decision to heal himself. Five years ago was the last time he 'woke up in a hedge' - and, he confessed, in those days he'd 'kissed a lot of badgers'!
Brendan caught us out with a poem he’d ducked out of ending, remembered how things were Back in the Day, and gave us a lipogrammatic poem inspired by Perec – composed of words not containing the letter ‘e’ – which really worked admirably!
Andy Fiver celebrated kite-flying as a meditative activity and preparing his motor-bike in spring sunshine as a harbinger of summer.
Eddie Chauncy’s metaphor of angry confrontation as what happens at a Level Crossing was powerful:
the violence of the train comes between us.
His poem about rain was memorable for
‘The sound holds the garden’s shape … All the rain I’ve ever heard…”
And Human was a poem addressed to no individual, but to all humans.
Jeremy Loynes reminded us that it was exactly a year ago that he first joined The 1000 Monkeys, at the Keystone. He read Green, the first poem he read on that night, inspired by Edward Thomas, as well as Thomas’ own poem. The refrain of his last poem tonight - ‘Still the quiet hills remain’ – makes this one of Jeremy’s most beautiful poems.
Owen Ostler was fresh from Mexico, obviously fluent in the language in which he could banter confidently! Mr and Mrs Mediterranean was a wry poem with an unexpectedly sombre ending, A walk through a village cemetery was fully of poignant detail.
Martin Jones introduced us to Huntington 'A bit of a clot, really' and we were entranced! Huntington is 'The Man Who…' writ large, and we loved hearing his antics. More, please, Martin!
The evening ended convivially with a few beers and designer gins in the garden bar downstairs. We're really looking forward to our next get-together at the Keep, on 27th March with the Paris Lit Up team of writers and musicians
(I have to apologise for the lack of images on this blog this month. For technical reasons that I hope to fix in a few days, I haven't been able to upload most of my photos or videos to the computer.)
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Janice & Dónall Dempsey
We are poets, writers, spoken word performers, editors and organisers of spoken word events, based in the United Kingdom.