Poetry in motion

Track Record_Severn Beach_Photo by Judy DarleyOn Saturday 13th July 2019, a very special train departed from Bristol Temple Meads station. Passengers collected their tickets and headphones from conductors escaped from an earlier era and made their way to Platform 1 (and three quarters, presumably), where poet Elizabeth Parker ushered into the central carriage.

This was the beginning of Track Record, an event harnessing the poetry of The Spoke – Paul Deaton, Elizabeth Parker, Robert Walton and Claire Williamson, simultaneously elevated and grounded by Eyebrow musicians Pete Judge and Paul Widens.

Track Record_train journey_Photo by Judy Darley

Poetry and trains make perfect sense as a pairing – something about the transient scenery and the rhythm means that they feed into each other as a form of literary symbiosis.

In the half hour journey between Bristol Temple Meads and Severn Beach, we listened to atmospheric recordings of the poets sharing verses inspired by the stations we were passing through, the people and wildlife who pass through, and memories from their own lives. Between or behind the words, Eyebrow’s sonorous trumpet and drums duo painted textures against the poets’ words and wove beneath our skins.

And all the while, the views: city streets giving way to wastelands, fields, industry’s sculptural effigies and the glorious sweep of the tidal Severn.

From Temple Meads to Lawrence Hill, memories of Stapleton Road, a chance encounter at Montpelier, from Redland to Clifton Down, Sea Mills, where we were joined by a Poplar Grey moth, to Shirehampton, where the moth disembarked, and onto Avonmouth’s metallic giants, St Andrew’s Road and the estuary’s feathered ebb and flow,
to Severn Beach.

Track Record_train journey_Avonmouth7_Photo by Judy Darley

Avonmouth seen from Severn Beach train line

Favourites for me included the conversational poem read almost as a list of observations by Robert and Elizabeth near the journey’s start, Paul’s Chicaning and Sweeps of Time between Sea Mills and Shirehampton, and Claire’s Migrations as the estuary stretched before us, shining.

The limited edition CD and booklet of Track Record published by Mulfran Press will be launched at St George’s Bristol in the Glass Studio on Saturday 7th September 2019. Buy tickets.

Poetry review – Empire of Dirt

Empire of Dirt coverThe poems in Thomas Stewart’s debut pamphlet Empire of Dirt share the enchanted forest feel of the darkest fairytales. Nature appears on these pages as something elemental and vaguely sordid, with humans only one footfall away from entering the shadowy, loam-scented spaces on the fringes of suburban streets.

Moving, enticing and richly redolent, these poems summon the paradoxical sense of peace laced with disquiet that’s so particular to woodlands, where the unseen creeps ever closer.

Many of the poems are about observing. In And then The Flowers Came, he writes: “outside/ the trees can/ smell me, their/ roots/ brew plots,/ they’re watching/ me, with/ everyone else”.

In Skull, Stewart invites us to become the voyeurs, ogling the intimate miracle of Adam birthing his Eve.

More contemporary suspicions come into play with the awareness of a neighbour spying from between the petals of a hibiscus across the road: “she watches/ how many cigarettes/ I smoke/ or how many times/ I check Grindr/ on my phone.” The tension between timeless and modern, and between threat and temptation, is palpable.

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Milk Poetry review

Tom DenbighUnfolding in Foyles Bookshop Bristol as part of Bristol Festival of Literature, Milk Poetry wound through our ears, hearts and minds, reminding us that words have a life beyond the page. This group of skilful poets and their guests each imbue their lines, rhymes and musings with startling individuality and honesty.

Malaika Kegode founded Milk Poetry in January 2015. “Milk Poetry was conceived to be a friendly, nurturing night that treated all performers with equal respect, warmth and room for growth,” she says. “The impetus behind the night was to offer equal billing and opportunity for up and coming poets, with a focus on artist development. Many poets can get stuck in limbo after performing for a couple of years; not quite a headliner but creating work more advanced than standard open mic fare. So Milk Poetry was created to bridge that gap and offer chances for people to hone their skills on stage and perform shoulder-to-shoulder with ‘big name’ acts, so they can feel like the true artists they are!”

She adds: “As Milk Poetry has grown, I think that nurturing backbone has just become stronger, and some artists who started performing for the first time at Milk Poetry have gone on to be major players in the poetry world.”

Tom Sastry

The evening opened with the wit and self-depreciating humour of Tom Sastry. Tom is one of the 2016 Laureate’s Choice poets. He brought us the first and only use of the word “ersatz” and wrote of “ganging up on our past selves who we secretly love” and “dead cakes in cellophane.” Many of his poems were a whisper away from being reclassified as flash fictions, pouring whole lives into our ears distilled down into a few vivid lines.

Malaika Kegode. Photo by Judy Darley

Next up, Malaika Kegode’s poem rattled through and over us, drawing us into a train journey, a relationship gone awry, and an ending so tragic that it made my teeth shake. There’s something powerfully filmic about her composition, so that you see the train carriage and its passengers, see the passing fields with their excess of sheep, and see the moon and the sun each highlighting what went wrong.

Next up, multiple slam winner Tom Denbigh (picture at the top of this post) delivered a story in the form of a poem, setting word choices at curious angles that created a sense of eavesdropping, and getting caught. He brought us the evening’s first use of the word “cardigan.” Offbeat and comic, the poem twitched with a sense of the search for identity, and of trying to solve the puzzles that make up the people we encounter.

Sam Grudgings. Photo by Judy Darley

Milk co producer Sam Grudgings, who describes himself as a poet perpetually on the edge of collapse, had rather delightfully brought his granny along. Taking us collectively by the hand, Sam led us on an excursion into a haunted house, speaking not to us but to the ghost herself, with her “arson fingers.’ Exquisite imagery drew us into a gloriously painterly scene, pegged with emotion.

Beth Calverley. Photo by Judy Darley

The potent Beth Calverley, co producer of Milk and Chief Operator of The Poetry Machine, performed Witchcraft, a poem laced with tenderness. Her words glimmered as though lit from within, with echos sounding quietly on the peripheral of our hearing. As Sam said in introducting Beth, her poetry is comprised of layers of meaning – there’s far more here than a single read or listen can reveal.

Rebecca Tantony. Photo by Judy Darley

Our final poet Rebecca Tantony shared a set of poems rooted in the complexities of family. Visceral, raw and compellingly intimate, Rebecca’s poems sent tremors oscillating the bookshop’s air, rustling pages and ricocheted empathetic shivers down listeners’ spines.

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Seen, read or experienced anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

 

Poetry review – Hope Alt Delete by Nikki Dudley

HopeAlitDelete CoverPoet and author Nikki Dudley’s first full length collection is small, spiky and full of attitude. Rolling out and tuning into a multitude of voices, it feels like a conversation only half-overheard. Tantalising segments glimmer on the page, inviting us to move closer, listening harder, and maybe pocket a shining phrase or two to carry home and examine at our leisure.

Nikki’s energy rustles behind each line, as she plays with familiar words and makes them at once more explicit and more unknown. Sentences stretch in strange, beguiling directions, or curl up tight, and words skip defiantly into slots that seem meant for something else, or break up entirely in ways that insist we regard them anew.

“Can you under-stand me?
Can you over-stand me?”

In other spaces, words are superseded by font, punctuation and blank lines that express everything you need to know. Continue reading

Poetry review – Short Days, Long Shadows by Sheenagh Pugh

Short Days, Long Shadows by Sheenagh PughAs we hurtle towards the time of year when this title becomes ever truer, I’ve been drawn to pick up Sheenagh Pugh’s 12th collection again. I reviewed it for Mslexia’s Sep/Oct/Nov 2014 issue, but with only a handful of words to play with, feel the need to take another, perhaps deeper look.

Sheenagh writes of the tenacity of living things to live while speeding towards their own inevitable demise. Yet her pragmatism makes this a far from melancholy thing. Indeed, she seems to suggest that our mortality should make the joy of the everyday that bit more intense.

In her opening poem, Extremophile, Sheenagh marvels at the ability of life to take hold and thrive in the least hospitable environments: molluscs “in the night of the ocean floor”, lichens “on Antarctic valleys where no rain ever fell.” It sets the tone for a collection celebrating vitality in all forms. Continue reading