Those China eyes are staring at you again, well one of them is, the other gazes sideways at someone on the other side of the room, an admirable bit of ocular multi-tasking for an inanimate object.
A China paw gloved by a China shoe pokes from the folds of a China robe as if this Swindon Sphinx has once more lost the straightforward pathway.
But this is not a straightforward place, nor is it a dark wood, it is Swindon Festival of Poetry being five years old.
You had an unusually hectic Wednesday night, you left your phone charger on the train, you feel washed out and tired, your mood dial is flicking its eyelash in and out of grumpy.
Like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, a great friend appears at your side, you met her through poetry, and she has held you up when the mood dial mires in the red.
She offers you the clothes of a poet and you put them on, you don’t want to be a Spaceman or a Medieval Knight today, you want to be a poet.
You wonder where these clothes will take you?
You look around; you are in Swindon Central Library, a state of the art place of learning, knowledge and information built at the tail end of the last Labour government.
The library replaced a huddle of tatty Portakabins which had creaked under the feet of Swindonians for decades.
The library, a great thing and investment in stuff that matters.
Festival Director Hilda Sheehan opened with a quote from Richard Jefferies, a Swindon writer whose social commentary remains as relevant today as when he was writing upstairs in the farmhouse at Coate as industrialisation took hold and changed the world forever.
In this place, Jefferies’ words certainly preach to the converted, but who cares?
‘Is there anything as delicious as the first exploration of a great library – alone unwatched?’
If that tacky Dog ornament stopped staring you out, you would feel a bit more unwatched.
Nevertheless the lure of an unexplored library gets you feeling special about today.
Then the poetry starts, and it’s soon clear that Swindon still does its thing that little bit different from anywhere else.
Resplendent in a Grecian tan which will be gone by Christmas Mark Farley reads two poems by the eight-year old daughter of Swindon poet Stephen Daniels.
You think the poems are beautiful, but their beauty is not borne out of the age of the writer, they are beautiful because they are beautiful.
Sophie’s simplicity, directness and clarity are made all the more beautiful by the fact that Mark chose to read her words not his own.
In Swindon the ego has landed only to be quickly shooed away like a scabby street pigeon.
Here, everyone is respected, and you like that.
Cristina Newton sums up the mood by saying that ‘there are quite a lot of people in this room that I love and others that I will’.
You look around; you see people from the Penny Readings held every month at the Central Community Centre, familiar faces from the Park Library Well-Being Wednesday group, Swindon Festival of Literature Director Matt Holland, Graham Carter – Swindonphile extraordinaire and driving force of Swindon Heritage magazine, Hilda Sheehan manning the barricades of poetry and those spectacular strangers you want to hear.
Edward Day delivers a rousing smash and grab of Shakespeare’s brilliance which takes your cliché away.
You must see Edward again, he brings things to life.
Anna-May Laugher reads a poem by Clare Shaw who morphed into a man at the 2014 Festival, it has the line ‘You can make anything happen or unhappen’ and you realise that this is happening and you are here and that charger on the train is irrelevant, the mood dial doesn’t even warrant a glance and today is good.
The morning concludes with Shaun Butler reciting a Thomas Traherne poem from memory.
He stumbles at the end, drops the ball, the uplifting finish won’t come, but the result is better anyway as Shaun explains the end of the poem in his own words and goes on to reveal how much the poem means to him.
Back of the net!
You think it’s a perfect end to Poems Aloud.
As you leave, you spy the China Dog in a cardboard box staring idly upwards at the ceiling and across the library towards the Drama section.
The Dog is alone, unwatched, off duty, glazed not with rainwater but with the smiles of a group of people sharing nicely.
Somehow you leave the library with an enormous pot plant which Robert Stredder has dead-headed.
Robert had earlier invented ‘Touch Poetry’ before your very eyes, only Robert could get away with this particular verse variation.
You are happy.
You Google Thomas Traherne when you get home then copy and paste the last stanza into this blog post.
You know full well that Shaun’s ending was better.
As sponges gather moisture from the earth
(Which seemeth dry) in which they buried are;
As air infecteth salt; so at my birth
All these were unperceiv’d, yet did appear:
Not by reflection, and distinctly known,
But, by their efficacy, all mine own.
Poems Aloud was the first event of Poetry Swindon Festival, 29 September 2016, at Swindon Central Library.
Chronicle by Michael Scott.