Review of Poetry Alight at the Spark Café Lichfield on 28th February 2012.
Last night saw the first of an occasional series of Poetry events in Lichfield. The Lichfield Poets who are regular readers at poetry events across the Midlands held their own event at the Spark Café in the centre of this ancient city.
It was triumph of poetic endeavour that saw 25 poets read, including six guest poets with six minutes spots at the start and finish of each of the three halves (shades of Spoken Worlds here, three parts is perhaps better), mixed in with readers with three minute spots which in the main was respected to ensure that the evening kept to time.
Set in the surroundings of a modern but everyday café that has the comfort and intimacy that the corporate coffee chains lack. We saw readers and performers from across the Midlands and one from south Yorkshire, meet to explore themes of love, relationships, to making soup, praising the roll of the goalkeeper and an observation that rock and roll deaths are not what they used to be.
The evening was hosted by Gary Longden, who did an excellent job, as a natural raconteur with his poetry and imaginative introductions that whilst often full of humour, showing his high respect for his fellow poets as they took to the stage.
The evenings performances featured three Birmingham Poet Laureates, including the current incumbent Jan Watts who started the evening with one of the six minute guest poet spots, with her take on pantomime, with a modern look at Sleeping Beauty which was delivered with a chorus of I am Sleeping Beauty in true Spartacus fashion from the audience. Her next poem was one of a memento from her Grandfather, through his Desert Spectacles and the wonder at what he saw through them, trying to capture an insight into a time of his life that he never discussed. She finished with a poem on the lure of reduced items in Sainsbury’s. She captured the audience with her mix of humour and thoughtfulness and set a high standard for the night.
Jan was followed by the first of the Lichfield Poets, Anthony Webster, who looks like a poet should with his shoulder length hair and hint of a beard. His experience as an actor transferred to his delivery of a Love poem and appropriately for the surroundings a Cafeteria Encounter, these were delivered with a considered voice that resonated around our ears.
Next was one of the Polesworth Poets Trail poets, Penny Harper, who evoked the spirit of a dusty road in India as she travelled to a temple, capturing all the feelings and senses in her words that took you for short time to this sacred place. She followed this with a poem about the ritual and tranquillity of her husband making soup that showed an idyllic pace of life that we can all achieve if we just slow down and contemplate the pleasure of making something. Wonderful poems.
Val Thompson another of the Lichfield Poets, then explored a fascinating take on the poetry of creaks and bumps that permeate the house as pipes debate with radiators punctuated by the interjections of rafter creaks. She followed this with a piece on that time that is neither night nor day, 4:00 am as the dark shifts its curtain to introduce the dawn. Val finished with a poem called Gastric Tract that left the sufferer with pockets of pain to count the stars.
Last years Birmingham Poet Laureate Roy MacFarlane gave an excellent reading with an exploration of what freedom really is through the telling of the experience of Richard Prior at his first gig in Las Vegas where he literary took fright and ran away. He followed this with a tender Father and Daughter experience running through the rain, encouraging his daughter to keep going because they are nearly there, knowing that as a father this was a lesson for life, no matter what, you need to keep going because you are nearly there. This was a poignant piece and one of the readings of the night.
Roy finished with Poetry and Chocolate, how he needs both, with words that gave the listener the poetic experience of eating the finest, smoothest, richest delight.
Heather Fowler then explored an Organic Woman through her relationship with her mother and the experience of boxing up a lifetime of experience into the removal van with Job Spec. She finished with Perfect Sight that questioned what Her Majesty the Queen would think, should she visit one of her Prisons, all too good effect.
This section was finished with second guest poet and former Birmingham Poet Laureate Charlie Jordan whose well crafted clever poems delivered from memory captivated the audience as she explored through sonnets observing a lover shaving with all the tender expectation of young love. She followed this with a sonnet in praise Goalkeepers, empathising with their plight of being under appreciated when they save the shot and prevent the goal, to being the butt of criticism when the ball makes it into the back of the net. Her final poem delivered another of the performances of the night. The poem about words and taking care of our words, saw the audience hold its breath so as not to miss a single nuance of this skilfully crafted poem.
THE SECOND part was opened by Gary who settled the audience back to the poetry with his poem that suggested that Rock and Roll death’s are not what they once were, more purple hearse than purple haze and that it was what you achieved before you die rather than an MTV funeral that defined true musical legends. This was well delivered and very well received.
Gary then introduced the next guest poet, also from Birmingham and a fine poet she is too. Marcia Calame defines herself through her poems; she is the ink on the page that needs to be read. Her second poem Bric-a-Brac described the little shop of everything, where the price of goods was valued by the customers. This clever poem about doing, believing and getting your hands dirty; Taking hopes and smiles and creating your own bliss by putting your own value on things and not expecting to be fed your entertainment and opinions. Another performance of the night. She finished with My Anthem another defining poem with a rhythm that describes what drives her. She is someone I have not heard read before and will certainly try and catch again.
Marcia was followed by a performance from Ian Ward, another of the Lichfield Poets who often reads on the poetry circuit. He made the most of his three minutes through delivering poetry without the preamble, letting the poems speak for themselves, as he gave us his take on 9/11, our dance and life at the Borderline. I often see poets give two or three minutes of explanation and then deliver a sixty second poem and I admire Ian’s approach last night as he maintained our poetry listening ears throughout his spot.
Next came Poet and Actor, Claire Corfield, whose stage experience showed through her presence in engaging and audience with an Ode to Speedo’s and the unattractive look that men of a certain age use to haunt Mediterranean beaches. She followed this with the first of three references on the night that played some sort of homage to Dylan Thomas. Her poem about the death of wasps in pints of summer beer was a triumph bringing in the thoughts of Thomas’ famous villanelle and ending with lyrics of Vera Lynn. She finished with a character piece, in the persona of a titled lady who liked killing animals. Great poems and an accomplished performance.
We were delighted further with the work of the leader of the Lichfield Poets, Janet Jenkins, whose imagery in her art inspired poems captured the flow and swirl of dance in Dancing for Degas; she followed this with Behind the Mask, as the painting of model Lily Cole wearing a mask berates the viewer as a voyeur. Janet finished by giving the awkward shaped figure in a Modigliani painting a voice that expressed her discomfort and dismay of being the muse, whose likeness would forever be seen as distorted effigy. Janet is to be commended for her expressive thoughts transferred into poetry using the art gallery as her muse.
Following Janet came the first of the Runaway Writers’ from Burton, Terri Jolland, gave us a thoughtful piece on some of unconventional nature of her mother through dress making, which was finished with describing thunder as her late mother riding a Harley Davidson across the clouds. She further delighted us with a new take on Gilbert and Sullivan and the Modern High executioner. Both well received by the appreciative audience.
Janet Smith whose Poetry Trail Poem is about an Owl, continued with the theme of birds through magpies with two poems that gathered together the wild landscape, of moorlands and breezes into word images that occupied our minds, taking the natural world and rippling it into our thoughts. She continued this with her third poem on Cracker Butterflies and their associations with hamadryads. Janet is a voice that can hold a room, suspending the moment into which she fills with her words.
To close the second part the fourth of the guest poets David Calcutt, who gave another excellent reading, even though it was briefly interrupted by the departure of the knitting group who had been… knitting – I guess, in the room upstairs.
David started with a poem inspired by Bronte Country, written in and around Howarth. His second poem that came from his work with people with dementia. Through fading memory come the shaking hands, which his observations led to him questioning “What are these Restless Creatures. This was a moving piece that provides and insight in to a condition that is shunned in the fear that we may end up that way and don’t want to face it. David’s work in the area of Dementia can only help to break down these barriers.
David finished with two nature poems, The enchanted forest, which described the wonder of the forest and its destruction, was followed by one of my favourite of David’s poems The Day of Leaving, inspired by a trip to Laugharne (second Dylan Thomas reference) in South Wales and is the observation of curlews and the significance of them moving on in the cycle of the year, another memorable performance of the night.
I had the honour of being guest poet to open the THIRD part with a selection from my recent commissions. I was followed by a poet new to all of us, Sheffield Skinny Matt, who had, as his name suggests, travelled down from Sheffield. He is to be commended for travelling all that way to deliver just a single poem. His humorous take on Matching Cardigan Couples was witty and sharp in its observation. It would be good to hear more from Matt in the future and to give him a space to give more than this brief taste of his work.
Following Matt, came Ben McNair who gave use a thoughtful piece entitled – This is how if feels before the rain, followed by a cleverly crafted unapologetic poem A Warning, which was well delivered and much appreciated by the audience – it is one of those poems that you think – wow, why didn’t I think of doing that. Both are available on Ben’s recent Kindle E-book collection.
Our third homage to Dylan Thomas came from the hilarious poetic tales from Alan Wales, who read an instalment from his Under Deadwood, delivered in excited tones as if we were in Brown’s Hotel bar in Laugharne. Alan gave a voice to daily lives through double entendre and playful quip that left the audience rolling with laughter in the way that only Alan can.
Margaret Torr from the Burton Runaway Writers followed with a poem Swan –that she describes as a white warrior on the Trent. She continued with a poem on the closeness of a relationship that can still have its distances with Running Parallel. Margaret always captures the essence of a feeling in her work and then delivers it as an accomplished story teller who engages the audience with her words and accompanying movements as she brings the swan into the room and the breeze between the lovers.
Tom Wyre read from his collection Soliloquy with his well crafted poems Joe Hamster about life on the treadmill and The Whalers Anthem, the latter he wrote as a young man, still has the freshness of his more recent work. Tom has a presence and voice to also hold an audience and last night was not exception. His collection is one that I would recommend, with all the proceeds going to charity.
The final guest poet was Gary Carr, fresh from his guest reading at the Fizz and hosting Spoken Worlds in Burton. Gary gave an assured performance of some of his best performance pieces. Starting with his take on performing in front of a Microphone and moving on to nature of a man as an octopus. His love letter to his daughter has all the tender, caring expression of a father’s joy in being a parent, which he admits took twenty years to write, but then he was being a dad and enjoying the moments that all dad’s should. His poem Fish captures the relationship between man and his landscape and sharing the world with all of nature. He finished with his wonderful poem Without you, where he finds his virginity hiding in a box under his bed and careful restores it safely so that he does not lose it again. Gary writes poems that work on many levels from the sometimes flippant outer level to deeper meanings that nestle in our thoughts of understanding the world. An excellent performance from a respected poet.
With still a few minutes remaining there was time for three sixty second slots, which saw Marcus Taylor tell of how he is God’s gift to the women of Birmingham, Guy Jenkins give his vision of Industry and Brian Asbury read his poem using only words beginning with M with Mad Military Mishaps. All too great effect.
Poetry Alight was a terrific evening of poetry and long may it continue even as an occasional event. It is a welcome edition to the poetry calendar in a place where you would expect poetry events to happen. The Lichfield Poets are to be congratulated for organising and promoting this fabulous first event and especially Gary Longden whose hosting skills made the evening flow easily and provided for the relaxed enjoyment of poetry.
The next Poetry Alight will be on May 15th 2012 at the Spark Café, Tamworth St, Lichfield.