For me, this first Shindig! of 2014 was a little different because I had been asked by Jonathan Taylor of Crystal Clear Creators to be one of their two featured poets, reading alongside Cathy Grinrod. Charlie Jordan and Joe Coghlan completed the line up as the Nine Arches Press guests.
We broke the usual format of open-micers followed by two of the four featured poets, continuing after the break with the remaing open-micers and closing with the final two featured poets, choosing instead to sandwich the open-mic slots with a featured poet at each end. I was offered first or last – no-brainer – better to be done early, and then be able to enjoy the evening without feeling distracted by nerves.
The pub was packed, which as Charlie pointed out was a surprising bonus for a cold and dark January Monday, but indicative of Shindig!’s high standing amongst the Midlands literary community. And I was really chuffed to welcome some of my dearest friends, (and Shindig! virgins), to the Western – meeting their smiling eyes whenever I peeped over the mic gave me a major boost.
I read five poems – all recently completed work – on subjects that spanned a wasp, a film, a personal history of car ownership, a medical proceedure involving a son, and a sunrise. I really enjoyed myself, in spite of a few rather noisy audience distractions. To be honest, I was just happy that the strident female voice rising over mine wasn’t aimed at me – I’m not sure how I’d have coped with a heckler! I was (oops) so excited (and a little thrown by not having any open-micers to praise,) that I forgot to thank Jonathan for inviting me to read. Thank you Jonathan.
Jonathan compered the first half and treated us to his poem, Martin Parr, Bored Couples, from issue 10 of Under The Radar, the flagship magazine for Nine Arches Press; ‘(…) stuff occupies the spaces between/like love (…) Like photo frames, stuff/is never quite fitted for something like love.’ – a situation I’m sure rang true with many. (But not me, of course!)
The open-micers were fantastic as usual. Richard Byrt opened with Hard in Strange Houses, a poem full of his customary dark wit, and ending in the great line, ‘it is always hard in strange houses/ to get invited again.’
Maxine Linnell read us a tender poem delivered with feeling – In Drier Times, – opening with ‘mizzle, mist, shades of wet air,’ ending with ‘I hug you right through your wet coat.’
Anna read of Grenoble and The Resistance, ‘quick shoes and quicker hunger.’
Kate Ruse, in a well delivered Off Guard, showed us ‘a twist of laughter’.
Karen Powell‘s Fur described the incongruous paradox of a woman obsessed with her, ‘fox tippett she kept for best,’ as she skinned squirrels for supper, saving her pennies in order to afford a full-length mink coat.
Gary Carr brought us 3 frosts and 2 pubs, and we were suitably ‘warmed by whisky and the first touch of a kiss.’
Kathy Bell read from a new series of poems about James Watt. Here we came across the young ‘Jamie’ in 1752 when Europe lost 11 days for the calendar to change, ending in the lovely line, ‘across the waste of time.’
Martin Malone, insisting he was totally chilled about being a Maxine, gave us the poem Ver about football and politics, some of which passed me by as I know nothing of the former, but which contained my favourite suggestion of the night – ‘Gove simply goes.’
Katarina ably ended the first open-mic session with her thought provoking Adam’s Lie, and ‘the beginning of the lie of womankind’.
Cathy Grinrod is a dab hand with memories. Her poems are tender, disarming, humourous, chock full of detail and vividly described; The Domino Effect – inter-generational game playing and ‘each tiny click of bone before the clearing up and moving on'; Sea Psalm, – a melancholy evocation of a very English coast. Her next poem recalling her school days raised wry smiles, bristled with emotion recollected more in seething indignation than in tranquility, and ended with the line – ‘dragging behind me all those years that had been the making of me’. Surrender, supplied horses, her ‘beasts of glistening coal’, and Aunt Margaret, whose favourite phrase was ‘Woe betide, which was also the name of her sea side house…’ ended her set with her large, and largely oblivious, heroine sitting on her pet Chiwawa, appropiately named ‘Bruiser’. Delightful.
Jane Commane, our second-half compere, began by choosing at random a poem from Nine Arches 10th Anniversary publication, Maps and Legends. The page opened on Luke Kennard‘s, Oh, You Don’t Agree? A strange poem full of startling imagery – ‘(..) Her long black coat is a tundra in profile./ She turns on me like a security camera (..) The anthology is a fine one and represents well Nine Arches Press’ first, very successful, decade.
I’ve heard Charlie Jordan read at Shindig! before, so was looking forward to hearing more. Charlie has a strong and highly professional stage presence and performs her poems, often from memory, with a confident and polished delivery. She began with Words, a vibrant poem which emphasises both the power and beauty of these ‘things’ we play with, and closes on the phrase ‘let your words mosaic the space between you and I.’ We heard ‘I am a Seagull'; (there were quite a few beaches tonight, come to think of it – are we hankering for Summer perhaps?) followed by a poem about Prince, (Capital O Curly Bracket Plus Sign) ‘who seduced me into puberty, (…) Patty Smith’s antithesis,’ then a poem about goalies written during her time as writer in residence at West Bromich Albion Football Club, (another theme of the evening?) – ‘invisible to thirty thousand eyes, I dragonfly between the net'; and Random, a gentle poem about a call-centre operator who realises the person on the other end of line is her estranged mother, ended Charlie’s enjoyable set.
Charles Lauder was up next, reading his new poem Isis’s Quest. I loved this surreal and contemporary take on the the myth of Isis and Osiris, ‘(…) But his shape-changing cock/was the hardest to find button mushroom in a field/Big Sur sequoia more often than not an octopus’s tentacle.’
Siobhan Logan read us another from her Rocket Scientist series, this one set in 1930’s Peenemünde – the Nazi Research Centre – home to the V-2 bombers. I can’t wait to read these poems as a complete and finished collection.
Stephanie read On the Fence, an arresting poem about fox hunting which I liked – drawn to and sympathetic towards its message.
Rebecca Bird stunned yet again with Quiet, ‘where clouds keep the stars in, overnight, for observation.’
Caroline Cook touched us all with The New Parents Visit, (…) boneless like cloud, (…) they’re in love with what they have made, but she can cut, with her cry, with the knives of her eyes.’ Gorgeous.
Mike Brewer continued the theme of daughters, here staying for longer than just a visit, with his, What My Daughter Told Me, – ‘she was surprised so little had changed’. – also quite affecting.
Maxine (a genuine Maxine, this time,) gave us 101 reasons not to love January, along with a longing for BBQs, Valentine’s day and Easter.
Andrew gave us a lovely portrait of Lowry.
Sue amused us with her Rhyming Aquarobics, which, I think, ought definitely to be included as an event at the Sochi Olympics.
Gabriel, with silvered eyelids, brought us a question of gender identity, ‘pink or blue? (…) maybe then you’ll see all my shades.’ I have a feeling that Gabriel does indeed have many shades, and I look forward to discovering more of them.
Joe Coghlan, our last featured poet, was a revelation. Please don’t accuse me here of being ageist or sexist, because what I am about to say comes from neither, but my heart sings when I come across young men writing poetry, particularly when it’s good poetry. Stunning. Mentored by Jean Binta Breeze, Joe has already fine-tuned his ear. We were treated to a wonderfully original voice and rhythm, and a surprising maturity. Joe is an exciting new voice with something fresh to say, and a few early-doors-nerves took nothing away from his mesmeric performance. Joe performed (from memory – I’m in awe!) two poems. The first:
The Outsider (Rites of Passage)
Beneath an ashen sky’s gloom and the pattern tiled roofs,
pigeons swooped mid-flight, alighting blackened high stoops,
gassed with rising fumes by static traffic light queues
as I was sat in the park, fifteen, an angry eyed youth.
Scruffy in scuffed shoes, trousers sagging and styled loose,
viewing the drunks snooze and ties-n-suits that’d stride through.
choosing that time to decide my future, my life’s pursuit, I’d write my truth
and I sat there pride bruised, having realized that I’d been lied to. (…)
(…) to a cacophony of riots & Thatcher’s policies.
Bottle feeding her youngest by the fridge, bills arranged by priority,
seeing ‘Very top’ spelt in magnetic letters, an anagram for poverty.
I last saw Anita with her partner by the sea, no longer a cash strapped mum.
Her three sons had flown the coup, now filling the tax mans cup.
She said to see true value of something, imagine a world it’s absent from
and it’s the unseen, unpaid labour of women that keeps the Globe and Atlas up.
Words, as Charlie Jordan said, are powerful things.