Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘Grist’ poets at ‘Wicked Words’, 7 Arts Centre, Leeds: 2 May 2012

Michael Stewart’s blog:


The organisation of the event, managed by Brendan, was efficient and professional.  Brendan made a wise choice by delegating the introductions for the ‘Grist’ poets to Michael Stewart.  

The one thing that Brendan exhibited which I would suggest that he might re-consider for future events was the tone of his banter during the rest of the evening, which was skewed to much, in my opinion, towards whimsy.  Poetry is supposed to be enjoyable, and can be at times funny, sexual, or vulgar, but it is much better if you act as if you are taking it seriously.   That need not get in the way of the enjoyment: just the opposite, in fact, because poetry is most enjoyable when the poems are allowed to speak for themselves. 

There is little I can add to the criticism that Michael Stewart has already made of the contributors to the read-round.  I would say that the first thing that the person responsible (presumably Brendan) should do is to introduce some kind of selection procedure other than picking names from a hat.  The rejoinder to that might be that it would cut down the number of people who want to read.  As long as it leaves somebody, and as long as it drives up the quality of the readings, then so be it.  What we experienced last night was a poetry economy in which anybody could draw a squiggle on a piece of paper and call it a five pound note.  

The whimsical note I mentioned earlier was carried into nearly every performer who appeared during the read-round.  I don’t understand why the emotional range covered was so apparently narrow and impoverished.  The whimsical party may be gaining some encouragement from the tittering which came from the audience.  I would suggest that this was motivated mostly by alcohol (which is fine) and embarrassment (which is not fine).  

I took 8 pages of notes (in my small notebook) during the read-round.  One of the things I do to sublimate stress is to write furiously.  I was somewhat inebriated at the time, but that made what I was writing more honest.  Here are some extracts from what I wrote. 

Guy in graph paper shirt, reading from a suspiciously fat book that looks like one of those vanity publications that a huge number of contributors have to pay to appear in.  Not a good sign.  Agh!  His intonation is wrong: too prosaic.   

This one contains the line “Go through the failover plan for when the new servers arrive.”  Am I back at work now?   

This is excruciating.  This is torture.  Aaaaaaaagh!  What have I done to deserve this?  Do anything.  Go up through the ceiling.  Descend through the floor.  But stop.  Please please please please please stop stop stop stop stop.  I’m dying.  I’m dying.  I’m dying.   

My name is Harry Palmer.

My name is Harry Palmer.

My name is Harry Palmer.

My name is Harry Palmer.

My name is Harry Palmer. 

Michael hit the nail on the head when he mentioned inappropriate rhyme.  I wrote this phrase four times among the notes. 

Somebody did a poem about the shipping forecast, which is quite a well-worked subject by now, and this was a poor example.  For some reason, the author had not quoted any of the language from the litany of the shipping forecast itself, which seemed an artificial and unnecessary handicap that the piece failed to recover from. 

The best effort during the read-round was the result of an exercise in thinking of 10 words about something unattractive or repellent and then using them to write about something beautiful.  I caught five of the key words: oppression, water-boarding, slavery, welts and rope.  This was the best evidence of craft during the read-round.  I did not catch the writer’s name, but he should be encouraged. 

None of the contributors to the read-round were women.  

The high point of the evening for me was that Julia Deakin produced the actual volume which was the inspiration for her poem, Possession: a copy of 20th Century Women’s Poetry by Faber & Faber.  I asked her if I could hold it while she was reading, to which she kindly agreed.  I gripped it fiercely when she spoke the line, Well it’s mine now, Elizabeth Scally or Scully.   This is one of my favourite lines from the whole anthology.


3 responses to “‘Grist’ poets at ‘Wicked Words’, 7 Arts Centre, Leeds: 2 May 2012

  1. Lizi Patch May 15, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    ‘This was the best evidence of craft during the read-round.  I did not catch the writer’s name, but he should be encouraged’

    Was it Ben Mellor?

  2. wthirskgaskill May 16, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I am afraid I don’t know. I thought at first that that name seemed familiar, but then I realised it is because another of the ‘Grist’ poets is called Julie Mellor.

    • Greg White May 19, 2012 at 6:30 am

      I remember the poem you’re talking about being one of Jonathan Eyre’s, but it might be a false memory. I recall congratulating him at the end of the evening for having branched away from his usual subject (his experience of M.E.) and brought along two freshly-workshopped poems.

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