It was the final spoken word event we would ever host at The Keystone in Guildford. Richard, the owner of the pub, who initially invited us to hold our events there, had been a kind and supportive friend while we built up our audiences on the first Monday of each month to respectable numbers. When we began, in 2014, the pub was normally empty on Monday nights, giving us the right environment for spoken word. But this final evening, with a heavy drinking party of young people shouting in decibels above our microphone, had all the qualities of a train wreck, as Ray Pool said. Good news for the pub, but the noise all but ruined the evening for our readers and listeners.
The nine poems in Mary, Karen’s chapbook celebrating St Mary’s Church, Merton, intensely evoke the spirit of St Mary’s and its setting in both time and environment, in a range of voices. There’s the lady who fears bringing snowdrops into the church will bring bad luck, even though Queen Elizabeth I herself has asked for them; the foundry man who casts the church bell in 1456, gathering herbs beforehand for the inevitable burns, and the Elizabethan commenting on feeling rain in the air. There’s the memory of when a gunner is gunned down meshing with planes approaching modern-day Heathrow; a mother in the graveyard mourning her dead child; and the poet herself, saying, ‘I’m writing this thing about a church, it’s 900 years old, at Merton’. and sorting through a heap of papers and pictures as she researches. The whole is a sequence of vignettes distilling her experience of the church as stones and mortar, and in terms of its long history.
Karen’s second set included another sequence of four poems about places. ‘Revelation’ is a meditation on the via Francigena in Tuscany, a Pilgrims Way leading to Rome, which connects to our own Pilgrims Way via Canterbury. Her sense of place and love of the countryside and its past, and the exquisite crafting of her technique, give these poems their timeless appeal.
Dónall’s introductory set introduced Simon Sad of Diss, in Norfolk, whom Dónall got to know when he worked in the care home where Simon lived at the end of fhis life. Simon’s Norfolk dialect fascinated Dónall and many years later led to a poem about a song that Simon’s mother would recite (the tune is lost.) Dew in Aprille is the title of Dónall’s poem, and you can hear it here.
Jeremy Loynes came to the mic with a poem on Winter, a thought about how poems arrive (Amused) and a distinct Afterglow!
With some relief, we said ‘Goodbye’ to the Keystone as a venue for spoken word: we wish the new owners well but we’re looking forward to the quieter atmosphere of the Castle Lounge, beginning on March 6th.
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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.