Elegant, gracious, charismatic and smiling that generous smile of hers, Wendy came to read to us last Monday directly from a family visit to Edinburgh, arrived early with her “roadie” husband Stephen, and charmed an audience that included fourteen open mic readers. Her new collection, Mood Indigo (Oversteps Books) was the basis of a varied set that took in early as well as recent poems.
She began with one of our favourites, Red Toenails in April, a poem that gives hope to all women over forty, and continued with poems about her father (“the most self-centred man I’ve known – and I’ve known a few – but charming!”) that are typically warm, embracing and forgiving of human foibles. I particularly loved Dancing with My Father and Seen from Below in her reading , and there are lots more wonderfully perceptive memories of their relationship, in Wendy’s new collection.
Another theme in Wendy’s work is the family and the mother’s role as home- maker. Her two poems on the theme of “the table” as a significant object are excellent examples of Wendy’s respect for poetry based on personal memories, family and autobiography. She can handle her themes without sentimentality or mawkishness, a skilled user of poetic means, and keep up a conversational tone that makes you feel she's talking just to you..
Not that Wendy doesn’t “do” political as well. She has poems about racial segregation, and about historical war crimes (The Way They Danced at Zalongo is a poignant story). And poems about other places and cultures, all suffused with her unique blend of sharp observation, humanity, sensuality and often a huge sense of fun.
Three years ago, Wendy Klein chose to change her nationality legally, to British. Listening to Renouncing I understood what she had renounced, in terms of her personal family history, and was glad that this citizen of the world has opted to join our small corner of it officially.
Here’s a fifteen-minute segment of Wendy Klein’s generous 30 minute set.
Dónall had new poems to air before the open mic began. He’s been immersing himself in James Joyce, having challenged himself to read Finnegan’s Wake. As he’s been listening to poems in archaic and foreign languages, including The Canterbury Tales in Middle English, his new poems riff off both of these texts, as you can hear in the clip.
The open mic - fourteen readers!
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Ray Pool was in ballad mode with the story of a hanging on Hounslow Heath, a wistful autumn lyric, a Michael Caine moment and a poignant series of questions from a child, about the meaning of adult love.
Alex Twyman was angry and in mourning for his grandfather– not an easy combination for a family-friendly public reading – and read very new, good but very sweary poems that reflected his mood.
Karen Izod read new poems from the collection she is putting together from her Welsh and Scottish writing retreats.
Jeremy Loynes read My Creed, Sooner or Later and Turning In, an excellent reflective set about personal growth and self-belief.
Dan Smith (our new Dan Smith) read up a storm, showing none of the nerves he used to worry about. He read poems on political corruption this month, and an ironical Homage to Trump. Phoenix Flight and Imagine were encouraging and optimistic.
Another new face at the microphone was Ciaran Ward, originally from Ireland. Cycling, office workers and spiders and their lack of responsibilities featured largely in his poems, and Ciaran wins the award for the longest title of the evening (only a virtual award, I’m afraid, Ciaran.) Here’s a short excerpt from his set.
Greg Freeman steamed through a set based on his collection, Trainspotting, and reminded everyone that the WriteOutLoud open mic in Send is on 21st November this month (which happens to be my birthday but unfortunately we can’t celebrate it there because we’re reviewing at the Yvonne Arnaud that evening).
We were happy to welcome Tim Dawes, a friend of Wendy’s and the director of the South Downs Poetry Festival, to the open mic. Tim risked a smack from Wendy by telling us that political poems are the only poems worth writing and labelling autobiographical poems “narcissistic” (but he wisely retracted this later!) He had, in common with Dónall and me, a liking for the work of Flann O’Brien and his poem about My Bicycle really appealed to us.
Sam Rae was next, another “Virgin” Monkey warmly welcomed to the mic. She’s been viewing the world from benches – at the graveyard and the swimming pool – and spinning poems there.
Eddie Chauncy read two beautiful poems about the qualities he valued most in his father, who has recently passed away: empathy, positivity, strength, faith and courage. “Wanting makes the world seem smaller” he reminded us.
Andy B J Low delivered a strong set of his slant-wise poems, including his observation the “multiple orgasms are a pain” and a discussion of The Silent L. Andy also reminded us that he’s running a Speedwirting creative writing session at Farnham Maltings Arts Cenre in Bridge Street, Farnham. It's held every Tuesday (it’s on our Events calendar). It's free, and a good chance to get inspired by other writers.
Here's Rochelle Parker with her rather subversive poem about the evils of Haiiowe'en and the commercialism that goes bump in the night (heartily endorsed by us) and the sad story of Myfanwy who's been kept on to do the scanning.
And finally, Andy Fiver, having braved a very cold night on the A3, delivered an excellent rendering of his set about biking in the Highlands. He was too modest to let me post the video, but it was a really good performance.