It was the first week of Spring and the first few days had given us a taste of Siberian springtime. The worst day had been Friday 2nd March, the day when our much-looked-forward-to poetry night at the Cranleigh Arts Festival was scheduled. We were still smarting over our bad luck – the weather had made the roads to dangerous that the Arts Centre had had to cancel our event. So, three days later and eleven degrees Centigrade warmer, we were particularly happy to be at the Keep with three excellent guest readers and fifteen amazing open mic readers too.
Dónall opened the evening with three short poems. The first, The Loveliest of Weathers he wrote recently, in memory of his Uncle Paudie. The Very Thing that was Required to be Shown (QED) is about Edward Thomas and is dedicated to Jeremy Loynes. Dónall finished with a favourite three-liner – Old Dog, New Tricks.
The evening was special for the range and quality of the poems we heard from guests and “readers from the floor” alike. We were very pleased to have Michael Farry, the widely published Irish poet from Trim, who has a new collection, “The Age of Glass”, published by Revival Press in 2017. Michael charmed us all with his laid-back style of reading his work. He has the knack of taking an observable fact and riffing on it in poetic form or free verse, with humour and humanity. Listening, I particularly enjoyed Surveillance – his experience of babysitting for his daughter.
“The Age of Glass” is a richly layered, beautifully constructed collection. I love the poet’s engagement with the physical manifestations of history and geography, both personal and cultural. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who loves well-crafted, thoughtful, emotive poetry. It’s available here: http://www.limerickwriterscentre.com/books/the-age-of-glass/
Chrys is a highly skilled writer and reader, with a background in professional acting, and her reading this evening was particularly moving and engrossing. The inspiration for her latest book, “The Punkawallah’s Rope” was her visit to India, where she took part in the Kolkata Book Fair. In the voices of protagonists representing the many classes and categories of people affected by the British Empire’s annexation of India and its subsequent partition, Chrys’s poems paint vignettes of the sub-continent and its problems and beauties. In Raju’s rickshaw, we listened to Raju’s advice and often disinformation about the sights of Kolkata.
With Chrys we visited the stink and decay of the ghats where the rich pay for cremation and the poor are released to rot in the River Ganges. We heard the voice of a young woman consigned to the flames of moksha after a miserable arranged marriage at fourteen, two miscarriages and death in childbirth. We listened to the discontented voice of a Victorian wife in the British Raj, complaining about the laziness and colour of her servants. And we heard the punkawallah, chosen for his deafness (which ensured his discretion) to pull hour upon hour on the rope of the fan in Sahib’s home.
The book contains a wonderful range of word-pictures and emotions, evoking not only pity for the poverty and (to Western eyes) injustice in the streets and homes of India, but the colours, perfumes, tastes and music of India, as in Saraswati. This god of poetry is worshipped with a celebration involving costumes in every tone and hue of yellow, gold, orange and amber, feasting, poetry and song: but then:
‘they box up all your finery/like Christmas decorations,/and throw you in the river -/…/Awfully unfair after all you’ve done for folk/on pages, minds and instruments./ /But there you are,/we haven’t treated our gods all that well/come to think of it.’
Such wry humour is one of Chrys Salt’s trademarks and a way to deal with the realities of life and death in India and Pakistan, without disrespect or trivialising.
“The Punkawallah’s Rope” is available from www.indigodreams.co.uk.
Ray Pool had the (dubious?) honour of being first open mic reader of the night. Eavesdropping at a fiftieth birthday party had supplied him with a poem very much in Ray Pool vein – conversational conflict that Ray’s light touch made familiar and comic. He also had a novel idea for balancing the books of the NHS: will the beleaguered service start selling body parts? (I shuddered but laughed.)
Kyle McHale remembered sitting on Rocks out Front in a place where he’s no longer small enough to go. Do such places still exist somewhere, in some spirit world where his child-ghost may meet the ghost of the man he has become?
Bob Newham showed his dexterity with exotic verse forms: galliardic verse (‘mediaeval sex and drugs and rock and roll in rebellion against courtly mannered verse’); also a Welsh form involving pairing strong syllable line endings with weak ones and a ‘McWhirtle’ (google for your own definition of that - I failed!).
Bob Milton remembered listening to J S Bach and celebrated the red-haired woman he once painted.
Annum Salman’s poem Awake, about insomnia and anxiety, surely struck a chord with many of her listeners.
We welcomed Greg Freeman, back after a few months involved in other things than poetry (What, I hear you say, ARE there other things than poetry on the first Monday of the month?). He came back with a great poem for us – The Joy of Sex. Even swingers grow old (but surely never too old?)
Rochelle was back, too, with her slant look at middle-class suburban life. Windfalls was about more than apples, and the Privilege Lounge an Eden to be entered only by the wealthy who thereby attain the state of grace of knowing how they are envied by the hoi-polloi.
Michael Cutchey brought PANIC into the proceedings. As he scrolled through the files on his phone before beginning, I was lulled into a false sense of security and had switched off our video cam when he suddenly shouted the first word of a poem that graphically described the effects of a panic attack, so unfortunately I can’t panic you with it. But here is the sinister Cheshire Grin.
Isabelle Kenyon told us about The Gorilla Girls and how On Growing Up she found that ‘I am my own family’. In a poem recalling her school days in Year 7, she celebrated Carol Ann Duffy reading at her school. (We were lucky enough to attend a similar reading by Duffy at George Abbott School recently.)
To complete the evening, as so often last (but never least) Andy B J Low read favourites from his love poems: Kisses and Two Heart Beating, reminders of our evenings at the Bar des Art, when we were ‘Pop Up Poetry’.
NEXT MONTH WE'LL BE AT THE KEEP ON THE SECOND MONDAY, 9TH APRIL, BECAUSE 2ND APRIL IS EASTER MONDAY. WE'LL BE FEATURING JEREMY LOYNES AND RAY POOL, BOTH OF WHOM HAVE RECENTLY PUBLISHED COLLECTIONS.
To subscribe to our newsletters and receive emails with news of our blogs, competitions & events (about twice a month) from The 1000 Monkeys and Dempsey and Windle Publishing, click the button.
We shall only hold your email address and name and will never share your information with anyone else. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Click to set custom HTML
Janice & Dónall Dempsey
We are poets, writers, spoken word performers, editors and organisers of spoken word events, based in the United Kingdom.