The launch party for the ‘Grist’ poetry anthology was a roaring success. It was held in a seedy-looking venue in Huddersfield called Bar 1:22, which had exactly the right kind of atmosphere for a contemporary literary occasion. The audience of about 60 was slightly smaller than I had been hoping for but what those present lacked in numbers they more than made up for in dedicated listening and responsiveness. We had the whole place to ourselves. One of the barmen had a rather fetching moustache that made him look from the neck up like a Hussar from the Napoleonic era.
Jane and I arrived late, which was a minor tragedy because the readings had already started. Fortunately, I was 12th out of 13 in the running order, and so I had not missed my slot. Also, we became so quickly immersed in the convivial atmosphere and literary quality of the occasion that we soon forgot our regret at having got lost on the way.
The poet who was reading when we arrived was Matt O’Brien, who read ‘A hermit with a parking permit’. Matt is a youthful Yorkshire bean-pole who was wearing jeans, T-shirt, tattoos, and one of those silly close-fitting knitted caps that young people go in for nowadays. He introduced the poem in a laconic style by explaining that it was about “a hermit with a parking permit”. He repeated this formula with his next piece, “How An Old Man Leaves His Life-long Wife” (the inconsistency in capitalisation between the two titles is Matt’s fault, by the way) which was about how an old man leaves his life-long wife.
Next up was Julie Mellor, whose most memorable piece was called ‘The Moment’, and was about the Penistone train derailment of 1916.
Next was a very understated and expertly-controlled piece by Greg White, called ‘Tumbler’. This is a poem about what I would consider to be just about the most distressing subject in the world – senility.
Janet Wadsworth read ‘Leo’ and ‘The Eclair’.
Tim O’Leary had travelled the furthest (from Cambridgeshire, I think he said). Two of his poems, ‘From Unbeautiful Things’, and ‘Park View’, I didn’t understand, but he made up for this with ‘Leave of Absence’, a piece about a workaholic couple who are both off sick from work at the same time.
Julia Deakin read ‘Presence’ and ‘Possession’, the latter containing reflections upon finding that a book she had bought second hand had many scribblings in it left by the previous owner. It was a masterpiece of emotional expression, mainly controlled outrage, and it got right under my skin. I am sure Julia would agree with my belief that, if Satan exists, highlighter pens are his paintbox. Julia set a very high standard with her introductions of her own work. She achieved exactly what one aims for at a reading: to provide a background to the poems while at the same time allowing them to stand on their own merits.
David J Costello read ‘Centurion’, arguably the strangest poem of those I heard that evening.
Steve Nash read ‘Perhaps Praying’.
It was very kind of Michael Stewart, the editor of the anthology and organiser of the event, to put Gaia Holmes on immediately before me. As a poet, Gaia is an immensely tough act to follow, but I know her, can remember what she looks like, and so she was the clearest possible signal of when I was supposed to get up. Gaia read ‘Imported Goods’ and ‘Camomile Tea’, which are both superb examples of her style: imaginative, descriptive, eccentric, observant, and sometimes disarmingly comical without ever being flippant.
I read ‘Sweet Nothing’, which is probably too cerebral for that kind of occasion, but I had instructions from Michael to read the whole lot. Next I read ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’, which the audience reacted to exactly the way I wanted, and was a very good preparation for ‘Dear Jared’, which got laughs in all the right places. To get the best out of ‘Dear Jared’ requires a microphone, and I used it.
Last on was Char March, who read ‘Grayson Perry’, ‘Wings ‘R’ Us’ (a modern re-telling of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus), and ‘We Are Sorry For Any Inconvenience’ (about a railway suicide – a subject dealt with by one of the songs on ’90 Bisodol’ by Half Man Half Biscuit, which is reviewed on this blog). Char March deserves special mention for the outstanding quality of her introductions, which were so expertly told that I must admit that I enjoyed them even more than her poetry. She used the recurring phrase (with reference to herself, of course), “coming out as a raving Lesbian”.
Michael Stewart finished the readings with ‘One Man’s Meat’ by Jim Greenhalf.
I had included in my introduction to ‘Dear Jared’ an acknowledgement of the debt I owe to Claire Jones and the fact that the poem she wrote to which ‘Dear Jared’ is the companion (‘Dear George’) can be found on www.thehungrypoet.co.uk. Another member of the audience had looked this up on her smart phone, and had expressed interest in my poem, ‘Mr Tickle’, which she found there. I happened to have a printed copy of ‘Mr Tickle’ in my pocket, because I always like to take an emergency back-up poem to these occasions. I offered it to this lady as a gift, and she took it gratefully.
Music was provided by Dave Gill (who also appears in the anthology, with a poem called ‘A Kind of Blue’). For no apparent reason, he appeared under the name ‘Chaz T’, and sang and played an amplified acoustic guitar in a very strident style. For one of his recently-written songs which had quite complicated lyrics, Matt O’Brien acted as prompter – a very competent performance which proves that the young generation is not as useless as you thought.
And then we all went home, intellectually and spiritually uplifted and with our dignity intact.