When I told Karen Izod and Eddie Chauncy that the 1000 Monkeys had been asked If we’d do poetry in a church, I think their initial expectations were quite exalted. They were ready to be overawed by the serious grandeur of the architecture, and a reverent hush in which to read their most spiritual poems.
Dónall and I had had experience of reading in art markets and open air festivals, so we were ready for a day in which we would struggle a bit to be heard, let alone listened to! But we knew there would be a good microphone, because our performances were alternating with musical acts curated by the Boileroom.
The Festival was ambitious and the organisers had done a wonderful job of arranging for boards and tables for the exhibitors of painting, glasswork, and crafts of all kinds. There were free screen printing and pottery workshops in the side rooms, and a café area, all within the body of Holy Trinity Church on Guildford High Street. The elegant cream vaulted ceiling rose high above what we couldn’t help seeing as the money-changers’ tables (of which one was, of course, my display of pictures). I was very pleased when the Mayor and his wife stopped and talked with me about my paintings.
Dónall and I had a morning spot of 15 minutes each, starting at 11o’clock. By then the Saturday shoppers had begun to come in to see what was to be seen. There was a small audience of friends for the singer who was performing before us, which drifted away to examine the attractive artefacts being sold nearby. Dónall, facing the backs of stalls, directed his powerful tones towards a gap between two screens and went for broke as usual. His Uncle Michael and Tilly poems, from his books "Being Dragged Across the Carpet by the Cat" and "The Smell of Purple" caught some people' attention and soon he had a small audience, reaching back towards the middle of the nave, with ripples of appreciation just audible above the steady drone of sociable sales talk going on beyond that.
As the hall filled up, so Dónall’s delivery became more emphatic. I came on and in an attempt to catch the ear of the families that now filled the hall I read a couple of my would-be comic “Cautionary Tales”, before I realised attention was flagging and turned to more serious pieces – “Tattoos” drew listeners who stayed for three more short poems. It was enjoyable to read to the few who were obviously paying attention, in particular Fátima Pantoja, an artist with a stall next to mine, and Andrew Curtis, another excellent artist near us. Fatima's website is at www.fatimapantoja.blogspot.com.
Here are the drawings that Fátima made of us while we read!
I discovered afterwards that the artist Andrew Curtis was one of the musicians, when he brandished his “palettolele”, a ukelele he had made with a palette as its sounding board. His drawings of live musicians were brilliant, I thought. His website is at andrewcurtis.com
There was more music after the Ukelele band: Majella played and sang competent covers of pleasant songs (Simon and Garfunkel and such popular favourites) and then Karen took the stage with enormous confidence and presence. Her set was a perfect mixture of the serious (in particular a moving poem about World War I) and lighter poems about family and memories. Her choices inspired my own. I followed her with readings from my book “How to make a Dress out of Silence”, about childhood and memory.
We had set up a little (free) poetry competition at the beginning of the day and I had been touting for entries at intervals during the day. We now had some poems to read and judge. Considering the pressure under which they had been written, all were of a good standard. The topic was some aspect of the Festival itself.
At 3.30 we announced the winner, Iona Mackenzie Laycock, a stall-holder, who wrote about the process by which she sometimes makes her textle art, using the elements to shape and form natural materials. Her website is at www.iona-art.com
Highly commended for ingenious rhyming and a feel for the atmosphere of the Festival was a rap by Toby McEwen, a young teen-ager. Here is his poem:
This was the first Arts Festival sponsored by the Artists and Makers Guild in Guildford and we hope it won't be the last. Huge thanks to Rachel, Daniela, Lydia and all the other hard-working organisers who made the day so successful.
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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.