On Friday last week I drove to Beeston to see Martin Figura perform his sequence ‘Whistle’. Martin performed the entire sequence, some 70 pages in book form, from memory. His performance was augmented by a slide show (Martin is a photographer as well as a poet) and recordings of female characters voices made by Martin’s partner, the poet Helen Ivory. The audience was transfixed by Martin’s stage presence and by the story that unfolded. Beginning with letters and images from the 1940s, the tale encompassed his parents’ lives before his birth, his childhood, his father killing his mother, and the aftermath of this shocking event. Somehow ‘Whistle’ managed to be an unflinching recounting of a tragedy whilst simultaneously being lyrical, humorous and tender. It was a truly remarkable performance and an unforgettable experience for all present. ‘Whistle’ is published by Arrowhead Press, and if Martin is ever performing ‘Whistle’ near you I recommend you go and see this extraordinary event.
On Saturday I went down to St. Albans to read at the Ver Open poetry prize. My poem ‘A Western Australian Piano Graveyard was one of the highly commended poems and you can read it at the bottom of this page.
Before the event I had time for lunch in the beer garden of one of the many wonderful old pubs in St. Albans. There I met and had a wide-ranging conversation with a gentleman who worked as a gardener for a Russian man who, as an eight year old boy, had met Rasputin. The Russian, now 102 and blind, had told the gardener how the memory of Rasputin’s gleaming white teeth stayed with him.
Then it was time to move on past the Roman ruins of Verulanium to the Abbey Theatre where I met competition judge Nick Drake and some of the competition winners and members of the society.
In the hushed dark of the theatre we were treated to readings from competition winners which Nick had selected from the 777 entrants. The anthology contains some wonderful work, and is available from Ver Poets for only £4 with a percentage of the money going to a local charity which provides voluntary assistance for new mums and families with young children in need of support.
Proceedings ended with a reading from Nick Drake whose three collections are all available from Bloodaxe books. I already had his 2001 collection ‘The Man In The White Suit’ and am in the process of acquiring the other two to take on holiday. There’s a link to Nick’s website on the right hand side of this page.
Finally, I attended Leicester’s regular bi-monthly poetry night Shindig! last night. This event is jointly hosted by NineArches Press and Crystal Clear Creators. As I write I’m aware that this post has already gone on a long time and I hope other Leicester writers such as Lindsey Waller Wilkinson and Jayne Stanton will have time to provide more detailed accounts of the night on their respective blogs. But I must mention Matt Merritt’s new collection ‘The Elephant Tests’ which Matt launched last night. If there is such a thing as quietly spectacular poems then these are such poems. I think Matt has achieved new heights with these graceful and dexterous pieces, many of which achieve the miraculous feat of seeming to record the easy flow of thought as it occurs. There is a new confidence and assurance here which takes Matt’s already accomplished and unique voice to new levels of consistency and excellence. The Elephant Tests is available from Nine Arches Press.
I can’t leave without mentioning David Morley’s spellbinding reading from his new collection ‘The Poet and the Gypsy’ which is a sequence of poems concerning John Clare’s friendship with the Gypsy of the title. David’s reading was both theatrical and intimate. I’m currently reading Jonathan Bate’s biography and am very much looking forward to obtaining a copy of David’s book which will be available from Carcanet later this year.
The open mike was of the usual high standard, which special mention going to Becky Bird who gave us her sublime ‘Once’ from memory. Becky is also co-editor with Ian Parks of the great looking new online and print magazine Hinterland to which I was very pleased to be asked to contribute.
It is hard to praise new poets without using worn phrases such as ‘one to watch,’ but I’m very excited by what I’ve heard and read of Becky’s work and know that she will be reaching a wider audience in the very near future.
Thanks for visiting!
Here’s my ‘Ver’ poem as promised.
A Western Australian Piano Graveyard
The famer’s pressing oil, olives spread
on mashing mats. We talk of chooks
and foxes, irrigation and bush fires.
I’m here to see ruins in meadows,
on outcrops, brought from sheds
and yards, lashed to utes and trucks.
“All good things return to earth.”
She tells how a choral hum is raised
by strong wind, how possums nest in felt
and termites engineer collapse; how once
after rain, a derelict played like a pianola
as green tree frogs leapt in its heart.
I take her hand-drawn map, find
a Gold Rush era upright, laminate
blistered, keys jammed and gapped.
Despite its barroom look
a brass plaque by the keyboard
names an outback orphanage.
A Foley artist’s dream, felt-less hammers
conjure horror from bass notes, or tap
a level crossing where the hero speeds
to make the gate. Each instrument
decays uniquely; a baby grand is legless,
veneer turned peeled like cherry bark.
Under cracked coffin-gloss
a clutch of white eggs.