We needn't have worried. The audience was great, we had eleven open mic readers and Paul made it down from a rehearsal in London in plenty of time to give us half an hour of mesmerising story-telling poetry that had everyone involved from start to finish. Here's the programme as it evolved in Dónall's capable hands.
First up to the open mic, Stephen Davids had, as usual, a surprise offering. This time he put on Geoffrey Chaucer's hat (in a manner of speaking) and read a new Canterbury Tale, with the requisite bawdiness, naughty donkey, landlord's (or was it miller's) pretty daughter, and a twist in the tale when the donkey becomes a hero.
Louise Etheridge made a welcome return with some new poems that Chaucer's audience would probably have appreciated as much as we did. Louise had some copies of her book, "Slightly Wrong" with her and found several keen buyers. Her poems "Fannies", Spring You Bastard" and a sonnet "To a Ghost Poo" set the tone for Alex de Suys, who came up to the mic next. By request she also read "Can't vote, won't vote" which has the distinction of having been read by Hugh Grant on Sandy Tostvig's show at the South Bank, Mirth Control. It's about women's suffrage, rights and responsibilities.
Alex de Suys amazingly avoided the topic of (killing) fluffy bunnies and gave us the rather moving story of a poet's life ("A schizo is his own best friend") and his "Tribute" to Julie Andrews which never fails to appall the sensitive among the audience.
Geoff Pimlott gave his excellent Andy Warhol sequence an airing (that's going into the Keystone Anthology that we're in process of compiling).
Lorri, badgered to read by Dónall, delivered a defiant three-liner in reply to the effect that she was b******d if she would, to laughter.
Karen Izod's poems brought desire into the room: desire for the peaceful Wye landscape where she had been on holiday, and a memory of conversation with a "lovely young man on the plane" whose youth, she realised, made her vague desire for more than conversation seem absurd. It was an honest and painful poem. Her word portrait of her grandfather as a "spiv" was kind and humorous.
Andy V fooled the unschooled among us (which included Dónall and me) with "The Donkey" by G K Chesterton, which we took to be by Andy himself until he owned up later! His own poem, "written on a motorbike but not about a motorbike" carried his infectious enthusiasm for the unfolding scenery of the mountains: "Just when you think you've seen it all..."
Alex Twyman looked back at the sheepdog he loved as a boy and then advised us to get drunk (which, interestingly, Alex himself was not.)
Andy B Low was having trouble with poems refusing to be born, but his exhortation to an unnamed lover to "wear something diaphanous and run" suggested that his inspiration and muse were really alive and well. We were sorry he refused to wear his new hat, a magnificent creation that I wish I had photographed.
Eddie Chauncy was inspired by a blossom tree by the Wey to explore a line between violence and peace in a sonnet about spring.
Our final open mic reader, Armando Halpern, was a Keystone Virgin, though he often read at our other venue in Guildford before he moved away to High Wycombe. Armando has been through a recent dice with death. He won, but was in intensive care only three weeks ago after a lung condition felled him suddenly. His poem tonight was about his experience in hospital and afterwards. Always calm and measured, Armando may have lost weight physically, but gained gravitas. We were very glad to see him on the road to full recovery.
His unfolding of the memory of a boastful conversation among young teenagers almost brought a tear to some eyes, of laughter but also sympathy and recognition. Paul remembers, observes and translates situations that anyone can relate to, into poetry. His last poem, "Maria", from his show "Tale from a Bedsitter" was poignant beyond belief and had us on the edge of our seats, rooting for the boy to win the girl of his dreams, without sentimentality or pretence. And it was a true story, he said.
We could have listened all night. What a star!