September’s Open Mic with Agnes Meadows was as usual a friendly and intimate evening, with thirteen readers from the floor and very welcome audience, including Hilbre’s lovely dog, who wasn’t quite in the mood for poetry but did her best to listen quietly.
Agnes began her first set with old favourites: her Wo-man poem (‘When you look at me, what do you see?’) set the pace for a group of fast-moving, sharp-shooting, firing-from-the-hip poems, including her Red Shoes poem, which always makes the ‘women of a certain age’ in the audience nod and smile.
Agnes has travelled widely, in Europe, the USA, South America and Asia. She lived for some years in Turkey, and has attended poetry conferences and festivals in Iraq, Texas, Nicaragua and Syria, among other places. Her poems are haunted by the suffering populations of those countries, and by individuals whose lives are very different from the fortunate poets at the festivals where she reads.
Agnes often surprises with her original phrases. In ‘Wedding at Shakrisabz’:
Her stone white face locked against happiness,
His eyes a gleaming pomegranate wound
Invading the inscrutability of nomads …’
She has long been an advocate for Palestine. In ‘They’re Bombing the Port Again at Gaza’ (from At Damascus Gate on Good Friday published by Flipped Eye) she attends another wedding on a day when
‘Explosions blossom in the Khamseen darkness
Like bloodied chrysanthemums of sound
. . . .
The groom had a plastic smile hammered to his face
Genuine fear turning his features wooden.’
More recently, Agnes has taken her poetry to Babylon (Iraq) and Nicaragua. Her second set tonight was composed of poems from her forthcoming collection. It’s based on her visits there and to other countries where poverty and war create instability and humanity struggles to survive. Her warmth towards the fragile and beleaguered suffuses her poems. We felt its power tonight.
Dónall was in good form, and began the evening by giving a preview of his new book, a collection of 100 poems, which is launched on 28th September, National Poetry Day. It’s called ‘Gerry Sweeney’s Mammy’ and the title poem celebrates the warmth and motherly kindness of his best friend’s mother when they were boys. It’s a book full of people, places and love. Dónall read from the collection, and several new poems. Here’s the video.
Jeremy Loynes had been meditating on retirement, and, more light-heartedly, on the difficult situation of chance meetings with old friends with whom you do not feel an immediate nostalgic affinity, and who have moved on from their carefree youth!
Bob Milton was welcomed to the mic, with a poem he’d written in memoriam to a friend who had died only a few hours ago.
Andy B J Low had a poem in his series about the body and its component s – ‘Eyes’ were in focus in this one. His heartfelt poem on ‘Rape’ stirred the room. ‘Small Print – Instructions for Life’ was partly a ‘found’ poem and raised smiles.
Kitty Coles read poems from her pamphlet ‘Seal Wife’, which is launched on Friday. ‘Poltergeist’ is an unusual take on the character of a wraith and its relationship with the occupant of the house it disturbs. ‘Osiris’ is an unusual love/loss poem, referencing the Egyptian god who was dismembered and reassembled in legend.
Eddie Chauncy reminded us that ‘We are So Small’ and also of ‘The Facts’. ‘The Iridescent Comma’ was one that I, as a poetry book editor, could relate to very easily!
John Whitbourn bravely decided to read this month, and we enjoyed hearing ‘Midges’, the poem that we published in ‘Poems to Keep’ this year, and his other poems.
Rochelle paid an ironic tribute to a Cyclist of the Classical School. Her piece about Elsie’s Café, where the atmosphere is dour but the ale is clear and cold ‘and you drink it in company with past generations of domino players’ - another of her bitter-sweet comments on places and life.
We were very pleased to see John Wheeler ‘in the house’, and to hear ‘Writing on Water’, the poem that he’s had shortlisted for the Wells Poetry Prize this year.
Geoffrey bravely attempted a poem in dialect! ‘Bus Stop Waiting’ was an all-too-well-observed piece of local life!
We were also pleased to see Josiah back at the mic delivering a poem.
Last, but never least, was Richard Hawtree, with whom Dónall had had such entertaining chats earlier, that he thought he’d already introduced him as a reader at the mic! Amid our apologies, Richard, who has been in County Cork this summer, read poems he had translated from the Irish, reflecting his mediaevalist scholarship. We were glad not to have missed them, for their liveliness and richness. And ‘Dónal’ got plenty of mentions in the literary annals of Ireland, even in the seventh century, it seems!
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