iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Category Archives: poetry

Review: The Ted Hughes Poetry Festival, evening, 24 June 2017, Mexborough Business Centre

Janine Booth had already started her set when we arrived.  Neither Valerie nor I had ever heard of her, before.  As we were entering the auditorium and faffing about with our tickets and trying to be as quiet as possible, I could tell that she was from London, and that she was reciting a poem that was political.  Political poetry usually makes me cringe, especially if it is rhymed, which this seemed to be.  I listened, and got ready to cringe.  But I didn’t cringe.  It was #1 delivered with controlled anger, not shouted or gone through like a times table.  #2 The poet sounded as if she knew what she was talking about.  #3 She had something to say that was not something I had heard said just that way, before.  It was engaging and lively and not the sort of thing you hear very often.

It turned out that Janine Booth might have been carved out of a slab of Valerie’s imagination.  She is from London.  She is vehemently anti-Tory.  (The poem we had walked in on was about hating Tories.)  She works on the London Underground.  She went on to do a poem about angry, middle-aged women, among other things.

Her final piece was a pastiche of ‘Hallelujah’, by Leonard Cohen, and, in my opinion, was a little step too far.  It didn’t have quite the same measure of craft and authority as the rest of the set.  Apart from that, Janine’s set was excellent, and I wish I had not missed the beginning.  Valerie bought two of her books.

Next was Tim Wells, another Londoner.  Valerie and I heard him for the first time at 7 Arts Centre in Leeds (near where I grew up) when he was supporting Kate Fox, earlier this year.  I had a chat with him, afterwards, about our shared passion for ska and reggae.  We had heard some of the same sound systems, in Leeds, though not at the same time.

Tim Wells has one of the most distinctive delivery styles I have ever heard.  His short pieces, which deliberately end before the audience expect, put me in mind of a Cockney version of Ivor Cutler.  I find his longer pieces fascinating.  I just want to hear what he is going to say next.  Tim Wells is one of the purest performance poets I have ever heard, in the sense that, for any given line or stanza, it is often not obvious what devices he is using: it usually isn’t rhyme, or metre, or repetition.  He just has a poetic voice –  an original, contemporary, poetic voice.  His speech is certainly Cockney, but it is also easy to understand to my middle class, West Yorkshire ear.

By the time Tim Wells finished his set, the atmosphere in the auditorium was already well on the way to healing the North-South divide.

Linton Kwesi Johnson looked much as I had imagined him.  I have seen images of him, before, on television, and in magazines such as ‘Black Music’ in the 1980s.  That was decades ago, of course, but his appearance was still in keeping with my expectations.  He wore an umber fedora, which he kept on before, during, and after his performance.  He wore a red tie,  a tailored jacket and trousers.  He was thin.  Despite the greyness of his beard, he doesn’t look old.  As many people used to say of my late father, he looks distinguished rather than old.

Linton Kwesi Johnson broke two of the basic rules of performance poetry.  He delivered long preambles, some of them as long as the pieces they preceded.  He also elided straight from the end of one poem into the preamble for the following poem, with hardly a second’s pause.  (This is what I call, “Doing a Gaia Holmes”.)  But there are mitigating circumstances in both cases.  The preambles were to do with the struggle for justice, both generally and with reference to specific campaigns, of black people in Britain, and he was talking mostly from first hand experience.  Also, the elision had the benefit of silencing all applause until the end, which was helpful to one’s appreciation and enjoyment of the performance.  I strongly suspect that he did this deliberately.

I first started reading the Liverpool Poets in about 1983.  I have since heard the late Adrian Henri, and Roger McGough, live.  I first heard the recordings, and read the pamphlets, of Linton Kwesi Johnson in 1982 or 1983.  In all the time I have been reading and listening to poetry, this is the longest span of time between first encountering a poet’s work, and then hearing them, live.  About 35 years.

Most of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s set was from his early work: the work with which I am the most familiar.  Some of these pieces I have not listened to for 20 years, but I know parts of some of them by heart.  ‘Sonny’s Letter’, for example.  The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, more so than in just about any other live performance I have ever heard.  My vision became blurred.  I don’t know why: I wasn’t in tears, but I couldn’t see, properly.  All I could see was a thin, well-dressed West Indian man on the centre of a stage in a hall in Mexborough.  That man was the one and only Linton Kwesi Johnson.

I thank Steve Ely and the other organisers of this festival for bringing such an eminent performer to Mexborough.  It was an unforgettable experience.

Janine Booth and Tim Wells can both consider their reputations enhanced, because their sets supported and complemented LKJ’s set.  The common threads were: a sense of pride in one’s own identity, and the struggle for justice.

On the way out, Valerie shook LKJ’s hand.  He was having a cigarette.  As we left, he sounded as if he was hacking up a lung.

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Throwing Mother In The Skip: 1 October 2016

The Cluntergate Centre has two performance spaces: a smaller one, called the café, and a larger one, called the main hall. Out of concern for how many people would arrive, it was provisionally suggested that we should use the café. In the event, we used the main hall. The lighting in there is more controllable. We put café-style seating near the stage. I borrowed Jared’s amp (the one I had bought him for his birthday) to play the music.  Many thanks to Darren Bailey and, on the night, to Julie Yarrow.

Valerie was in charge of the bar. She had some help from Jane (Jared’s mother, my previous partner).

All the people I have mentioned so far appear in poems in my debut collection, ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’. This was the first reading I have ever given at which they have all been present.

Rob Reed and Matt Abbott arrived in a taxi, a fact of which Matt had to try and make light by describing it in a posh accent. Despite his TV celebrity status, Matt still finds the mere act of riding in a taxi uncomfortable.

At 5am on the day the performance was due to start at 7:30pm, I was in my kitchen, drinking gin and sawing wood, in order to rebuild the stand that the mock skip requires to make it usable on stage. I am glad to say that Valerie slept through all this, and I managed to complete the task without injuring myself.

I think I thought of nearly everything, apart from who was going to collect the entrance money from people who were going to pay on the door. This was admirably taken up by Sarah Leah Cobham, in a display of initiative that would have done credit to the young Napoleon.

The audience was 25 people. This was pretty good, considering that only 5 tickets were sold through the ticket website. And they were 25 very good people.

The distance record, as far as I know, was taken by John Darwin, late of A Firm Of Poets, who had come from Manchester. YES, DEAR READER. SOMEBODY CAME FROM WEST OF THE PENNINES TO SEE THIS SHOW IN HORBURY. It was fortunate that I had communicated with him earlier about the best route to take. If you are coming to the Cluntergate Centre from Kirklees, or anywhere to the west, do not go via the centre of Wakefield: go via Dewsbury. The 126 and 127 bus from Dewsbury stops virtually at the door of the centre.

Rose Drew and Alan Gillott, my publishers at Stairwell Books in York, had also travelled a long way, and it was great to see them. They want to publish my debut short story collection, provisionally titled, ‘Something I Need To Tell You’, of which more later.

After a bit of messing about with the voice mic and Jared’s amp, Matt decided he would make a foray behind the curtain, and see if he could get the PA working. This he did, in a very short time. We were in business, with voice on one system, and music on another.

We started on time.

First up was Rob Reed. Rob reads from a medium-sized notebook with a black cover. He marks his running order with Post-It notes, which he tears off as he goes, and aggressively throws on the floor (before assiduously picking them all up after his set has finished). He did the modern, long run-up comedy routine based on multiple sophisticated word-play on the word, “Hello” that I had heard before. Everybody got it. He did serious stuff. He did other humorous stuff. He did stuff that defies classification as either serious or humorous. That was why I asked him to be there. That is why he went on first.

Rob is the only person I have ever heard to utter the phrase, “Jeremy Corbyn riding a dinosaur”.

It had occurred to me, before the show, to try to make up jokes about Matt Abbott’s recent TV celebrity. I needn’t have bothered because, of course, the best person to make fun of Matt Abbott’s TV celebrity is Matt Abbott himself.

Matt was also acute enough (ACUTE, I said) to observe that Rob had had a skip behind him while on stage (albeit a mock skip) and yet had broadcast his Post-It notes all over the place in the most wanton manner imaginable.

Matt’s set showed his accustomed variety. Politics. Pies. L20 1BG, which is about his mother’s cancer diagnosis. It appears in the Wordlife anthology, edited by Joe Kriss (ISBN 978-1-5272-0073-9) and, by something approaching chance, had been read by me on the last edition of Themes for Dreamers on PhoenixFM, broadcast from Halifax.

I started at the kitchen door. Valerie and Jane, who had been managing the bar, were sitting down. I stood in the doorway, off to stage left, and performed the prose piece that I call, ‘Buried Treasure’, which is an impersonation of my late mother. It has only been performed once before, at the now-defunct Sportsman in Halifax. It is quite an experimental piece. I think I just about got away with it.

Next: a piece I call, ‘Unfortunately’. https://www.facebook.com/sarahleahcobham/videos/10208832249377853/

Then a new poem, read from a piece of paper, and then onto reading from a copy of ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’.

This was the first time the line, “with inadequate French bacon” got a laugh. Rose Drew attributed this to my having fore-shadowed it with the “Buried Treasure” piece about my mother. That seems like a good explanation.

Enough people turned up. The venue was great. The concept I had had in mind for the show worked. I expect to be running similar events at the Cluntergate Centre in the near future. I learnt a lot, and the next one may be even better.

We still need to insure Matt’s hair.

An interview with William Thirsk-Gaskill, who is trying to do it in the style of David Bowie

Simon Armitage (for it is he)***: I am talking to William Thirsk-Gaskill, the celebrated writer of short fiction, and powerhouse of West Yorkshire performance poetry.

WT-G:             Hello, Simon. We meet at last.

Simon:             Er, yes. I have here a copy of William’s debut collection, which is called ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’. Why did you give it that title?

WT-G:             My mother died relatively young, and relatively quickly. She was cremated. We didn’t literally throw her in the skip, but I did throw away many of her possessions. It struck me at the time that, in a sense, the possessions were more of a representation of her life than she herself had been, at the point when she died.

Simon:             Are all your poems about bereavement?

WT-G:             No. Some of them are about generational conflict. Some are about bad relationships, or relationship break-up. Some are about self-realisation. Some are about mental illness.

Simon:             Those sound like very dour subjects.

WT-G:             There are two funny ones. I hope people will be content with those, for now. I will write some more funny ones, as soon as funny material comes into my life, that I want to express.

Simon:             Would you say your poetry is mostly confessional?

WT-G:             I would say it is nearly all confessional.

Simon:             You realise that the word “confessional” is often used pejoratively in connection with contemporary poetry.

WT-G:             Yes. That doesn’t worry me. I think you have to write about your own experiences. It is by articulating your own experiences that you connect with other people’s experiences.

Simon:             What do you expect your readers to say, after they have read your work?

WT-G:             What they say is up to them.

Simon:             What do you hope they would say?

WT-G:             I hope they would say, “Anybody could have written that. Therefore, I will write poetry of my own.”  Unless, of course, they already write poetry, in which case, I hope they would just say, “The time I spent reading that was time well spent.”

Simon:             So, how do you …

WT-G:             Do you know that I have carried one of your socks?

Simon:             Er, how do you …

WT-G:             It was brown, and furry. I helped to carry it round the dales. It was a very rich shade of brown. I rather liked it.

Simon:             I am afraid that is all we have time for.

WT-G:             It is available from Stairwell Books.

Simon:             What?

WT-G:             http://www.stairwellbooks.co.uk. The cover price is £7. It is £8.50, including UK postage and packing.

 

*** None of this is true, except the details about how to buy the book.

Ozymandias, as it might have been written by Matt Abbott

He were reet, reet owd, this bloke I saw dahn Westgate.

He went on about two stones: he needed to confess it.

He were mostly drunk. Summat about summat “half sunk”.

I said I still don’t get thee, dad: you’ll have to come again.

This thin and wobbly old bloke turned the volume up to ten.

He said there’s stuff round Wakefield that’s owder than thee and me:

Some got shut by Thatcher: some you still can see:

Like winding-gear and foot-bridges and factories and canals

And them that built that pedestal were some of my best pals.

I hated that Ozymandias, allus broadcasting despair,

As if he owned mortality: it just weren’t bloody fair.

He governed as an Eton twat, as if he didn’t care:

Never went dahn Westgate: he just stopped inside his lair.

I peeked into his garden, once: it were boundless and fucking bare.

Review: A Firm Of Poets at Unity Works, Wakefield 26/11/2015

This is the first time I have paid to see A Firm Of Poets. The evening was worth every penny.

The music was provided by a band whose name I didn’t catch. Their line-up was: electric piano, guitar, and violin. The violin playing and backing vocals were provided by Matt Abbott’s girlfriend, Lucy Relins.

The format was the same one that A Firm Of Poets always use. They line up five chairs. They line up five poets. Each poet does a single poem and then it moves on to the next one. Sometimes there is a preamble or banter about the previous piece, but it is always kept to a merciful minimum. They all recite from memory. I don’t know how they do it.

The compere was Geneviève Walsh. Her performance was the best I have seen. A Firm Of Poets are accessible and alternative at the same time. Geneviève is the embodiment of this. I heard her poetic voice more clearly than I have in any previous performance. She is maturing in her presentation, and staying crazy and uncategorisable at the same time. If Geneviève Walsh ever enters the same room as Alan Bennett, there will probably be a thermonuclear explosion.

Matt Abbott is only 26 years old. Like Geneviève, in this performance he spoke with the clearest voice I have ever heard him use. Part of his patter was the comparison and contrast between audiences that expect rhymed pieces (music crowds) and those that expect unrhymed (lit crowds). Matt has mastered both. He also does pieces that leave the listener wondering if they were rhymed or unrhymed. His last three pieces were political. He can do political poetry that has a mixed-aged, mixed-gender audience stamping their feet, clapping, and shouting. I have lost count of the number of failed attempts at political poetry I have heard.

John Darwin’s work has a depth and breadth that defies description. The man himself is quitely-spoken, philosophical, and introspective. His work is inventive and profound. His performances are crafted, to the extent of being like those of an old-time music hall performer. He reminds me faintly of Eric Morecambe. It is impossible to tell whether everything is rehearsed to the nth degree, or if is improvised. I guess that the truth is somewhere in between. He is also a Manc, which helps to diversify what might otherwise have become the contemporary poetry equivalent of Last Of The Summer Wine.

If A Firm Of Poets were a set of spice jars, then Victoria Garbutt would be the chilli powder. Apart from the three years I spent at Liverpool University, I do not get Toria’s drug references, but I do get her anger and the stylishness of her delivery. I heard five poets this evening. I preferred some of them to others. The fact that there was a range of voices is something I would never change. Toria keeps the preamble down to virtually zero, which is greatly to be applauded. She also met most of the evening’s quota of swearing, which is also a thing to be encouraged. This was commendably augmented by the representatives from A Republic Of Poetry, particularly with regard to the word, “wanker” by a gentleman from Featherstone.

Ralph Dartford’s voice also came through more clearly in this performance. He added touches of comedy and pathos, as well as delivering his blockbuster, ‘Safe Home’, with topical variation.

Jacqui Wicks produced the performance. As a production, it could not have been bettered.

If I had to think of one word to describe the whole event, it would be: Shakespearian. We had everything: characters, voices, stories, love, sex, death, substance abuse, childhood, old age, madness, familiarity, strangeness.

The auditorium of Floor 4 at Unity Works was packed. Everybody in that auditorium apart from the performers had paid ten quid to get in. This is A Firm Of Poets. This is the People’s Republic Of Poetry. The next performance is at the Barnsley Civic on Saturday 28 November. I won free tickets.

Debut poetry collection: Throwing Mother In The Skip

After an amazingly efficient, professional, and low-stress publication process from Stairwell Books in York, my debut poetry collection is now in print. It costs GBP 7.00, plus postage. You can buy it directly from the publisher:

http://www.stairwellbooks.co.uk/index.html

I thank Alan Gillott and Rose Drew, who are not only independent publishers, but performance poets as well.

I will post details of the launch event as soon as it has been organised.

Review: Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times: a collection by Firm Of Poets

56 pages

Paperback

ISBN 978 0 9930192 0 3

Published by Ossett Observer Presents, 2014

This chapbook features poems by Ralph Dartford, Matthew Headley Stoppard, Geneviève L. Walsh, John Darwin, and Matt Abbott.  I know all these people.  I have been given very generous lifts in the car belonging to Ralph and his wife, Jacqui.  I have interviewed Matthew Headley Stoppard on my radio programme, and shared a stage with him during the promotion of the Grist poetry anthology.  I have headlined and done open mic at Spoken Weird, run by Geneviève Walsh.  I have read a poem at Write Out Loud in Sale, run by John Darwin (where Ralph and Matthew also performed) and I have heard Matt Abbott perform many times, in Wakefield and Sheffield.

The first thing that strikes you about this book is the production quality.  As a manufactured object, it is a thing of craft, beauty, and durability.  It is held together with red stitching which reminded me of the seams on a pair of stockings.  The cover design is distinctive but minimal.  There is an endpaper made of textured black paper which looks almost as if it has been retrieved from a bonfire without being broken.  The text uses two colours, black and red, which appealed to my anarcho-syndicalist background, and two fonts (the maximum number permissible in a single document which doesn’t contain equations or scientific notation).  The poems are divided by author, and appear in the order I listed the names previously.

If you happen to live near Wakefield, the nicest way to obtain this book is to visit Rickaro Books in Horbury, where it is currently in stock (http://www.rickarobooks.co.uk/).  (While you are there, you might also like to have a look at a copy of ‘Escape Kit’.)

Ralph Dartford’s work is free verse, mostly with short lines, and uses rhyme, rhythm, and stanzas, but not in a regular form.  His subjects are marginal lives, relationships, and the passing of time – all good stuff.  His last poem is political and is that rarest of objects: a political poem that sounds as if it was written by a grown-up and which actually works.  Ralph achieves this by observing one of the simplest rules, which is to write from the personal, the detailed, and the practical, rather than the impersonal, the abstract, and the hypothetical.

Matthew Headley Stoppard uses longer lines which are harder to enunciate than Ralph’s.  His subject matter defies categorisation, but the poems all have a clear narrative voice.  The vocabulary contains a lot of words, and goes near to the point of becoming poetic, e.g. with ‘ellipsis’ and ‘dovetailed’, but the language feels free and experimental rather than pretentious or over-written.  I am fascinated to see how MHS’s already mature-sounding style will develop as he approaches the age of thirty.

Geneviève’s first poem has the same narrative mode as some of the passages in ‘The Damned United’, by David Peace – the ones in which the voice of Brian Clough is narrating.  In other words, there is an unreliable, first person narrator, who addresses himself (herself, in Geneviève’s case) in the second person.  The effect in both places is to make the narrator sound unhinged.  Her poems use a lot of figurative comparisons, but still manage to sound contemporary.

John Darwin’s two main themes are a sense of place, and mortality, sometimes with both in the same poem.  One of the poems is set in Turkey, but for a reason related to the subject, not for the sake of sounding exotic.  John uses rhyme and rhythm, in a manner which is more regular than most of the other work, but he doesn’t use standard forms.  As I implied earlier, all these poems are written for performance, by seasoned performers.  Matt and Geneviève are loud performers.  Ralph, MHS, and John are clear but quiet performers.

Matt Abott’s poems are about a sense of place, romantic longing, and a review he once received via a posting on the Channel 4 website.  ‘This One’s For Tim’ is the only poem in the book which is about writing poetry.  It is also the most regular in form (five quartets, each with a rhyme scheme AABB).  ‘Drunken Culinary Kingdom’ is about one of The Forbidden Subjects For Contemporary Poetry – going for a drunken night out.  It is also regular in form, apart from a variant middle stanza.  Matt does this kind of thing much better than most of his contemporaries, but I think it reads less well on the page than some of his other work.

The collection is fairly well-balanced (in the artistic rather than the mental health sense).  It contains a lot of craft, some guile, a mixture of emotions, and it will try to hit you over the head with a tyre-iron in places.  If you are interested in poetry which is urban, contemporary and unpretentious (like mine is) then buy it.  If you have any affection for books as manufactured objects, then buy it whatever your opinion of poetry is.

Doncaster Mapfest and Wakefield Litfest

I am doing a spoken word performance as part of Mapfest 2014 in Doncaster. This is from 4:00 – 4:30pm on Friday 29 August at the Marketplace Ale House and Deli (21 Market Place, DN1 1ND). This will feature poetry and short pieces of comedy.

On Saturday 30 August, I am appearing at a reading at Wakefield Library, which starts at 2pm (Wakefield One, Burton Street, WF1 2DD). This is the launch of a new poetry pamphlet containing the winning entries from the 2014 Red Shed Open Poetry Competition, in which I won the Wakefield Post Code Prize. Copies of the pamphlet will be on sale.

On Wednesday 24 September, I am appearing at Wakefield Writers’ Fair, at the Orangery, near Westgate station. All being well, I should have copies of ‘Escape Kit’ for sale. The doors open at 5:00pm, and the writers’ short presentations about their work begin at 6:30pm. There is usually a licensed bar at events at the Orangery.

I am at the Orangery again at 7:30pm on Tuesday 30 September at the Poetry Wrap Party, which closes the festival. Details and ticket information here: http://www.wakefieldlitfest.org.uk/events/109-poetry-wrap-party

Walking The Line

Walking The Line

The cost is measured out in human lives:

the people, mostly men, who get sent down

for burglary, assault, or carrying knives,

their faces inked to resemble a sad clown.

I’m a liberal, and this fact makes my heart bleed:

some, when they are released, still cannot read.

 

We carried Simon Armitage’s sock

for forty-seven miles around the Dales.

We clambered over dry-stone walls and rocks.

Each night, we read our poems, drank real ales.

I wondered if this venture was worthwhile,

how much The Sock would do in ‘pounds per mile’.

 

I still have yet to meet this national treasure,

except, of course, on BBC Radio 4.

Few people prefer poetry to ‘Jezza’,

but Simon’s fame still travels more and more.

How much down its elasticated throat

could some brown, woollen item blackmail/coax?

 

My home town prison is a ‘Category A’.

A man in there lives in a Perspex box.

I struggled to see how we’d make this pay

even with Simon Armitage’s sock.

In Marsden, Hebden Bridge, in Bingley, Ilkley

we hoped the contributions would flow free.

 

Apart from a success at Hebden library,

the other readings were a crock of shit.

The Reader Organisation was conciliatory,

and I suppose that we all felt we’d done our bit.

Michael Stewart said that, after all four rounds,

we had collected just eighty-four pounds.

 

They say that it costs less to go to Eton

than to put some twat in prison for a year,

and socialists and liberals might feel beaten

by ‘under-class’ and ‘immigrant’ right-wing fear.

Incarceration, at the least, should lead

to books, so we can teach them how to read.

Ilkley Literature Festival 2013: Walking the Line and other events

Michael Stewart, Julia Deakin, Gaia Holmes and I will be walking 46 miles along the Stanza Stones route, from 17 to 20 October 2013. This event has a received funding from the Arts Council and is called Walking the Line.

The first leg is from Marsden to Hebden Bridge, and then to Bingley, and then to Ilkley. There will be evening poetry performances in, respectively, Marsden, Hebden Bridge, Saltaire, and Ilkley. Times and venues of these will be announced shortly.

Everybody is welcome to walk with us, and ask us questions about poetry. Some of our fellow Grist poets will be joining us.

I am appearing solo at the Ilkley Festival at 9pm on Monday 14 October 2013, at Ilkley Playhouse. You don’t need a ticket for this event: you can just turn up, and admission is free. The event is entitled Throwing Mother In The Skip.

I am also appearing at Words on Tap at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds on 26 July 2013.